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.”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.”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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