Butler in U-turn over parks protection: ‘Nothing to see here’

Croydon’s parks are safe, says Councillor Alison Butler, and the additional protection she and the council wanted in the Local Plan is not needed. Apparently

Alison Butler, the Croydon Council cabinet member responsible for planning, has made a U-turn over the future planning status of the borough’s parks.

On Saturday, Inside Croydon reported how the government planning inspector had rejected Croydon Council’s efforts to apply a new tier of planning protection, “Local Green Space”, to more than 70 of the borough’s precious parks and open spaces.

The inspector’s report was critical of Croydon Council’s planning department, saying that they had failed to make a case that many of these open spaces were truly “special”.

Residents’ associations and parks friends’ groups who contacted Inside Croydon expressed real fear that, without the additional planning protection that the council had requested, it will be all too easy to bulldoze their park for the next batch of flats. Council-backed schemes have already opened the way for developers to build on Queen’s Gardens, at Coombe Woods and on playing fields next to Duppas Hill Park.

The planning inspector’s report is out for public consultation – the deadline is midnight on Tuesday.

Initially, Butler expressed the view that the inspector’s findings needed to be contested.

Butler, who is also the deputy leader of the council, told Inside Croydon, “We will be responding to this modification and in support of the Local Green Space designation and have encouraged local residents and communities to do so.”

Inside Croydon’s report drew massive public response. More than 10,000 concerned Croydon residents had read the article over the weekend, many of them pledging to do just what Butler had asked and send in their comments on the inspector’s report.

Yet by yesterday, Butler was attempting to shift her position, claiming that the Local Green Space designation was not all that important after all. It was as if she was waving people past, muttering like an old-school copper, “Nuffink to see ‘ere. Move along there.”

Confusion: Alison Butler

In letters distributed to residents, seen by Inside Croydon, and in a press statement issued from the council HQ, Butler seemed to be claiming that the many hours of hard work of officers in the planning department to prepare their presentation for the inspector’s hearing were all a waste of time.

Many open spaces have existing planning protections – as locally listed Historic Parks and Gardens, Sites of Nature Conservation Importance and under the National Planning Policy Framework – and this would prevent any of these parks being at risk from development. This much was known, and reported, at the weekend.

Butler’s most recent comments begin to suggest that there was never any need for the council officials (working under the direction of her and her husband, Paul Scott who, conveniently, is the deputy cabinet member for planning and the planning committee chair), to have bothered at all with the Local Green Space designation.

“Any protection currently given to ‘green’ space will remain,” Butler assured in one of her emails.

“Croydon Council had recommended additional designation of ‘Local Green Space’ to add to current designations that will recognise the importance of green space in local areas. The government-appointed inspector is minded not to support this additional designation and has suggested this as a ‘modification’ to the Local Plan.

“However, those areas remain protected by their previous designation and there is no suggestion that they be built on… Croydon Council will not support any type of development in our parks, nor would the Mayor’s London Plan.”

In another email, Butler explained, “The additional designation of land as Local Green Space as proposed by the council would provide additional protection – beyond existing conservation, heritage, ecology or national policy protection – to green areas around the borough deemed to be of particular importance to Croydon’s community.”

In 2014, Croydon Labour promised dedicated park keepers in all of our parks. In 2017, the council scrapped its parks department

It is understood, however, that some of the open spaces on the extensive list submitted to the inspector do not have any planning protection. Without being declared Local Green Space, these areas might be at risk. Butler has never stated how many areas might be so affected in this manner.

Members of Croydon’s parks forum, a group of representatives from across the borough who advocate for our parks, have been puzzled by the council’s initial inertia over the inspector’s report, and latterly by the new-found complacency of Butler.

“It is good to find out that the council will be contesting the inspector’s findings,” Peter Underwood, a senior member of the local Green Party and a member of the forum, told Inside Croydon.

“However I would like to know when and how Councillor Butler ‘encouraged’ local residents and communities to respond to this consultation.

“The Friends of parks and woodlands groups had not heard of this until we raised it at our meeting last week and I haven’t seen any communication from the council to these groups or residents’ associations asking them to raise any objections to the inspector’s findings.”

Andrea Perry, from the Friends of Grangewood Park, raised a similar point. “Why did the councillors not alert us to this earlier?

“Did they not know?”

Given that the council has scrapped its dedicated parks department, that appears to be the most likely explanation.

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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 Alison Butler, Community associations, Croydon Council, Croydon Federation of Allotment and Garden Societies, Croydon parks, Duppas Hill Park, Environment, Friends of Addiscombe Railway Park, Friends of Ashburton Park, Friends of Croham Hurst Woods, Friends of Crystal Palace Park, Friends of Farthing Downs, Friends of Grange Park, Friends of Grangewood Park, Friends of Haling Grove, Friends of Heavers Meadow, Friends of Marlpit Lane Bowling Green, Friends of Millers Ponds, Friends of Selsdon Woods, Friends of Shirley Windmill, Friends of South Norwood Country Park, Friends of Wandle Park, Friends of West Norwood Cemetery, Peter Underwood, Planning, Queens Gardens, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Butler in U-turn over parks protection: ‘Nothing to see here’

  1. timbartell says:

    Does anyone know the current status of the Duppas Hill playing fields ? Has the deal been done allowing the developers to convert their Thousands per acre into millions per acre ?

  2. The matter does seem to have become confused, but there’s been no change to the Local Green Space designation. The Council was trying to bring in an additional layer of protection and might still succeed in that, at least in respect of some of the areas, due to the representations the Council and the public are now making.

    • The only confusion, David, arises from the lack of answers to three simple questions:
      1, If the Local Green Space protection is not needed, why did the council go to such lengths to request it?
      2, Why did Cllr Butler and council officials fail to notify parks friends’ groups and the forum of the inspector’s findings in respect of the Local Green Space before our report at the weekend? and…
      3, Why did Cllr Butler say one thing on Saturday, and then something quite different come Monday?

  3. Re the land at the bottom of Duppas Hill Park please first of all see this council answer to my colleague Councillor Canning.

    What protection, if any, is currently afforded to the green space next to Duppas Hill Park in Waddon that was formerly the playing fields of the now-closed Heath Clark school?


    The site is currently designated as Local Open Land by saved Policy RO8 ‘Protecting Local Open Land’ in the Unitary Development Plan, 2006. This states the following

    Development will not be permitted unless
    i) It is for outdoor sport and recreation or another appropriate outdoor activity; or
    ii) It is a replacement or extension of existing facilities: and
    iii) It does not harm the open character of the land; and
    iv) It does not harm residential amenity.
    In considering the harm to the open character of the land the Council will have regard to:
    i) The size and location of the development
    ii) Effect of the development on public views to and from the open space;
    iii) Need for and impact of ancillary facilities such as car parking; and
    iv) Effect on existing open space uses; and
    v) The effect of increased overlooking, traffic flows or other encroachment.

    A full assessment of the Local Open Land in the Borough was undertaken in preparation for the Proposed Submission Croydon Local Plan: Detailed Policies and Proposals (emerging and not yet adopted Local Plan) to assess whether these sites met the criteria for Local Green Space designation as defined by the National Planning Policy Framework. The criteria used to assess sites is listed below:

    In close proximity to the community it serves;
    In local character and not part of an extensive tract of land; and
    Are at least three of the following or publically accessible and one of the following:
    (a) Historic Park or Garden;
    (b) Community Garden;
    (c) Children’s play area;
    (d) Tranquil area;
    (e) Natural and semi-natural open space;
    (f) Cemetery, church yard or burial ground;
    (g) Site of Nature Conservation Importance; or
    (h) Playing field or recreation ground

    Sites were required to be at least three of the above or one of the above and publically accessible to prove they are demonstrably special or hold particular local significance.

    The green space next to Duppas Hill Park in Waddon, that was formerly the playing fields of the now-closed Heath Clark school, which is referred to in the Local Green Space assessment as Site ref ‘Ji- Extension to Duppas Hill’ did not meet the criteria as it is not publically accessible.

    The criteria (page 24) and assessment (Appendix1, page 18), can be found in the Croydon Local Plan Green Grid Technical Paper in the weblink as follows http://www.croydon.gov.uk/sites/default/files/articles/downloads/greengrid-techpaper.pdf

    • Yes, “not publicly accessible”. Apart from every time a group of travellers need to provide grazing for their ponies, or joy-riders want to use the space as a race track.

      Those playing fields are readily accessible – if the council wants them to be so.

      Clearly, a decision has been taken by the council that that is an inconvenient truth.

  4. Waddon councillors spoke out against the loss of this green space and indeed repeated this concern in the context of the current green spaces issue in response to the consultation on Modifications to the Partial Review of the Croydon Plan.

    Waddon councillors also sought the retention of the proposed green spaces protection for Duppas Hill Park itself, Wandle Park and Waddon Ponds.

    The land, part of what made up the Heath Clark school, found its way through the nationalisation of 6th form provision by a Conservative government, into the ownership of Croydon College. The school was closed and partly redeveloped into the housing that is Old School Place.

    Recently the land was sold by the College to a potential developer.

    The inspector accepted the council’s argument that this land was needed to be reserved for secondary school provision from 2030 onwards. Some housing would also be permitted next to the school.

    A 12th school in Waddon ward in some ways is a positive.

    That amount of provision is beyond the immediate local need and thus Waddon councillors have expressed concerns about the amount of traffic and public transport stress that comes from adding another large school to the locality.

  5. drewarp says:

    Alison Butler’s actions and rhetoric inspire zero confidence when it comes to protecting our green spaces. Parts of Queen’s gardens are due to be annexed by the Taberner house developers, seemingly with Alison Butler’s approval, so demonstrating the worthlessness of existing protections at protecting our green spaces from council officials & developers.

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