UnHappy Valley: plans for glamping and festivals at beauty spot

UnHappy Valley: some locals are suspicious of suggestions to commercialise this beauty spot

The latest in a series of council consultations about the future of the borough’s parks and open spaces is suggesting that a noted local beauty spot could be handed over to another public body to look after, or that it should be commercialised by allowing caravaning, rock festivals or “glamping” on site.

The questionnaire put forward for Happy Valley – or what officials in Fisher’s Folly have now taken to calling “Happy Valley Park” – has already provoked angry concerns from locals living in Coulsdon and the Friends of Farthing Downs, who are suspicious of changes which could damage a precious piece of downland.

Last month, Inside Croydon reported on a consultation process on the borough’s parks which – with cash-strapped Croydon now unable to afford to have a parks department any longer – could see the virtual abandonment of 120 of the green spaces for which the council has responsibility.

That would leave just six parks being given special status which the council bean-counters would prefer to see being maintained by platoons of keen volunteers, while staging special events which would generate some income. Labour’s enlightened 2014 commitment to staff every Croydon park with a named park keeper has been dropped.

Plans for Norbury Park, with its new BMX track, have been well-received by locals

Now, the Labour-run council is looking to make our public parks earn their keep.

Some of the schemes which are being rolled out across six “premier league” parks have been well-received by residents’ associations and parks friends groups, such as the outline plans for Norbury Park, which now has the borough’s only BMX track and is home to an amateur boxing club.

While the council has no available money to run a parks department, it has somehow found another pot of cash to hire in some consultants. The proposals are being worked on by Tyréns, an urban planning and infrastructure design agency.

Their scheme for Happy Valley has not been well-received.

The council questionnaire gives a glimpse into what they want to do with Happy Valley

At present, Happy Valley is open to all, free to access, whether arriving in Old Coulsdon by bus or by car. The open space has miles of tracks and paths, through copses and woodland and across some open downland.

Judging from the council’s online questionnaire, it is now looking to exploit the area commercially – and probably regardless of what response they get from the public consultation.

Proposals put forward in this exercise include tree top walks, camping, caravaning and “glamping” (that’s posh camping), country fairs and plays or concerts.

Car parking charges are also being considered.

Key to any of these proposals could be the response from the City Commons, the body funded by the City of London which is responsible for thee management and upkeep of several important open spaces in the south of the borough, such as Kenley Common and Farthing Downs, which neighbour Happy Valley.

The City Commons are running several projects of longer term environmental value, restoring the downland environment and introducing livestock and wildflower meadows. This work would undoubtedly be impacted if Croydon Council decided to set up a caravan park or stage a rock festival in Happy Valley.

But the council’s abandonment of its responsibilities for our public parks could yet be extended, since the survey also puts forward the proposition that Happy Valley could be handed over to the London Wildlife Trust or the National Trust, or that a trust could be set up, which would then raise revenue via membership fees.

The survey describes Happy Valley a “country park”.

Locals are suspicious of that this is a way of the council redefining Happy Valley, to better suit a not-so-hidden agenda to commercialise a natural open space.

Elsewhere on the council website, under “Happy Valley Park History”, it states that, “Originally known as the ‘Coulsdon Greenbelt Lands’, the name ‘Happy Valley park’ was adopted for the whole area in 1970.

“More recently the site has become known simply as Happy Valley, reflecting the fact that it is now regarded and managed more as an area of open countryside than a formal park.”

How Croydon Council is seeking public approval for handing over responsibility for Happy Valley to the National Trust or London Wildlife Trust

Certainly, those who live nearby or who visit regularly for dog-walking, rambling, nature-watching, cycling or running, tend to see Happy Valley as a natural open space which, along with Farthing Downs, forms part of a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The Happy Valley survey is further intriguing for the personal details it requests from responders, under the guise of “equalities monitoring”, including asking whether they are members of friends groups or local residents’ associations.

The survey can be completed via the council website at https://getinvolved.croydon.gov.uk/kms/elab.aspx…

There will also be drop-in sessions at The Fox pub car park and outside Aldi in Coulsdon between noon and 4pm on September 16.

  • Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
  • Inside Croydon is the borough’s only independent news source, and still based in the heart of Croydon
  • From April to July 2017, we averaged 33,000 page views every week
  • If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or a local event to publicise, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Coulsdon, Croydon Council, Croydon parks, Environment, Friends of Farthing Downs, Wildlife and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to UnHappy Valley: plans for glamping and festivals at beauty spot

  1. As a former Caterhamian, I find the prospect of changing Happy Valley quite abhorrent. I am all for modernisation etc but there are some things that are simply best left alone.
    With all of the changes that happen within the towns its always nice to be able to go somewhere that has never been spoilt. A place that would have looked the same fifty years ago, should look the same in another fifty years.
    Some things need to be left as nature intended.

  2. Trevor Evans says:

    I agree with that. I enjoy the quiet and solitude of the place. It is amazing to stroll there and spot a deer. But it might not always have been so unspoilt? Riddlesdown a similar piece of open land use to have some kind of fairground until into the twentieth century. A place for the Hoi Polli to charge down from the Smoke. So what the council proposes isn’t a completely novel idea. The Victorians were exploiting these sort of green spaces on the edge of built up areas in just such a fashion.

  3. croydonres says:

    As Trevor mentioned, Riddlesdown was the focus for mass excursions in Victorian and Edwardian times, by railway, bicycle, and by bus or “charabanc”.

    In the last few decades of the 19th Century, the City of London bought Riddlesdown, Farthing Downs, Coulsdon Common and many other areas of countryside, including Burnham Beeches and Epping Forest, to prevent the tide of Victorian building from ever running across these beautiful and historic landscapes, and to safeguard places where thousands of Londoners could escape from the smoke and smogs to the sunshine and fresh air of the country.

    Existing pubs and tea rooms catered for the needs of visitors, while entrepreneurs built pleasure garden facilities near some of these open spaces to feed, water and entertain the throngs of day trippers.

    Some fellow loyal readers of Inside Croydon will remember the swing boats at the top end of Farthing Downs, and the tea rooms, up to the late 60’s (maybe 70’s), which gave a small flavour of that Victorian past.

    With regard to Farthing Downs and Happy Valley, these adjoining open spaces provide a unique hill and valley chalk downland landscape, a kind of distillation of the downland landscape of Surrey and Kent, or maybe of any chalk hill area in England, although of course, each is different, and each area is itself unique.

    Within a small area of a couple of square miles, here in Croydon, we have Happy Valley– a dry valley carpeted in wildflowers and a wide range of native grasses, plus the adjacent plateau fields near the Fox pub, with their hay meadows, and (slightly to the West) the whaleback ridge of Farthing Downs , which is also covered in wildflower -rich grasslands, with many nationally rare plants, plus the ancient woodlands of the spookily-named Devilsden, with their native bluebells and birds.

    I remember in the 60’s , when Farthing Downs was far less rich in wild flowers– much of it was a boring area of grass close-mown by tractors and gang mowers, which encourages the grass but kills off the wild flowers.

    Thanks to the increase in national awareness of the beauty and endangered nature of wild flora in the 70’s 80’s and 90’s, the City of London Corporation in the case of Farthing downs, and Croydon in that of Happy Valley, have adopted modern, ecology-encouraging landscape management, involving woodland work by volunteers, and –instead of mowing– the grazing of the open areas by rare breeds of sheep, and the photogenic and benign Red Sussex cattle, and the reinstatement of traditional annual cropping for hay, which encourages the wild flora and dependent insect life.

    None of this work happens by chance, but a huge amount depends on the dedication and knowledge of a tiny number of people, these primarily being the Countryside Warden of Happy Valley, Dominic North, who is employed by Croydon’s landscape maintenance contractor, once Quadron, – now idverde — and his counterparts in the City of London’s Commons and Countryside team. There is also a volunteer co-ordinator, also a wildlife expert, who organises volunteers to carry out tasks such as managing the woodlands and scrub habitats.

    The Friends of Farthing Downs are a long established group who have done a great deal over the years to raise funds and public awareness to benefit both Farthing downs and Happy Valley, with talks, walks and input into interpretive signage, and other things.

    The result of all these people’s hard work, both of the paid staff and by the many volunteers, is that not only do we have beautiful scenery, but we also have a landscape made even more beautiful, and interesting, by the large population of wild flowers, butterflies, moths, other insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, and even some amphibians in a wet area.. This incredible diversity is recognised by the designation of SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest).

    Landscape, open views, and wildlife draw people from a very wide area to come to enjoy both Farthing Downs and Happy Valley, generally arriving by car to the Farthing Downs car park (City of London) or Croydon Council’s car park by the Fox pub.

    The pollution and traffic free landscape also attracts many for active recreation, with the up-hill and down-dale topography appealing to joggers and walkers, and for people just seeking quietness, sunshine and air.

    A nice fact is that the Paris to London cycle route enters London over Farthing Downs’ ancient ridgeway road, giving cyclists a sudden view over London. Where else on Earth can one cycle along a quiet Surrey country lane, to emerge on to a wide expanse of sunlit hilltop, dotted with red cows and colourful wild flowers, with a view over countryside and London to the Shard and Canary Wharf, then to coast down hill towards London, past Anglo-Saxon burial mounds, and bump over speed humps that are actually the banks between 2000 year old Celtic Fields?

    It surely all amounts to one thing– people experiencing freedom and open air in a unique place, away from the pressures and confinement of buildings and traffic-filled streets

    It is really heart-warming to visit both sites and see people walking (with and without canine friends), jogging, flying kites, picnicking, sitting (some in cars in the car park). Recently, I met a man playing a guitar. I am also really encouraged at the number of young people from all ethnic backgrounds coming out to this wonderful place. Maybe some are getting away from their parents ! Whilst they often stay close to their cars, even so, the beauty and quality of the place must sink in. Maybe, in a few years, they will be bringing their own children out to enjoy a walk here.

    I think that Croydon Council are very aware that in Happy Valley, they are custodians of one of London’s best areas of landscape and natural wealth.

    I hope that, in the desire to make this area as close as possible to self-financing, they are very reflective of the need to only choose to accept new activities or facilities that are in keeping with this unique landscape, a precious, wildlife-rich countryside within London..

    Encourage more people to experience and enjoy, by all means, and encourage children to play in the landscape. Play features could be appropriate, if thoughtfully placed, and of the right design and materials. Glamping, a beer and cider festival or a music festival –or all of these in one?. A great idea, possibly for the plateau meadowlands by the Fox pub, but only if it is properly resourced and does not wear out the land.

    Thousands of sponsored memorial benches, encrusted with plastic floral tributes, balloons and messages to the dear departed?. Off-road motorbike trail? Noooo !!!!!!!

    To ensure that the public have their say, and select only good ideas for Happy Valley, the more people who engage in Croydon’s consultation about parks, and particularly, attend the Coulsdon drop ins on Saturday 16h September, mentioned in Inside Croydon’s feature above– the better.

    And …. why not join the Friends of Farthing Downs and Happy Valley?

    Submitted by Lewis White, a landscape architect from Coulsdon, and former local government officer with three London boroughs, who is privileged to enjoy a view over the valley of Coulsdon to Farthing Downs, and a small glimpse of part of Happy Valley.

Leave a Reply