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.
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.
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.”
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.
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