ELECTION COUNTDOWN: Our eager Town Hall reporter, KEN LEE, spent the evening at a debate in Old Coulsdon, so that you didn’t have to
Not content with overseeing the publication of an uncosted local election manifesto that contains at least £83million of promises to get himself elected, and which Council Tax-payers will end up having to pay for, Tim Pollard, the leader of Croydon Conservatives, last night made a pledge to sign a blank cheque to property developers and their expensive lawyers for potentially hundreds of thousands of pounds in legal bills and costs.
Such wanton public expense, Pollard told the less-than-packed audience at the Coulsdon and Purley Debating Society, “would be money worth losing for costs awarded against the council at appeals to show support for the residents”.
Ahhh. How sweet. A politician who still suggests the senseless sacrifice (of the public’s money). Even if he does not believe it will achieve much beyond an increase in his own Town Hall allowances.
Pollard was speaking in Old Coulsdon on the debate motion, “It’s time for Croydon to come back to the Conservatives”.
Now this was on the day that the Tory party leader, Theresa May, was dealing with emergency debates on the forced repatriation of the Windrush generation (under policies commissioned when she was Home Secretary), and explaining why she had used British armed forces to take the country to the brink of thermo-nuclear Armageddon without first having the courtesy of discussing the matter in Parliament.
Even under such circumstances, there was never any risk that this small, but select gathering (including four other Croydon Conservative councillors present to help to ensure the majority) would not support the motion.
Interestingly, when Pollard was not bandying around promises of spending money that Croydon Council does not have, he and the 12 speakers from the floor all seemed to focus on how Croydon Council is run by the CEO and senior officials and a cabal of councillors in what they saw as “an unaccountable fashion”.
Pollard, who on May 3 is facing his first local elections as leader of Croydon Tories, said that the local Conservatives had changed and would now be “Listening to Croydon”.
And there, sitting behind him, watching the audience’s every move, and Pollard’s, was Downing Street Spad and Barwell bag-carrier, Mario Creatura.
A lot of criticism from the audience came for Labour’s chair of the planning committee, Paul Scott, and his handling of Brick by Brick planning applications. Young Conservatives in the audience accused the Labour council of letting down the borough’s young people over the failure of Children’s Services.
But the critics of the way the council is being run were not just Coulsdon’s usual true-blue Tories. Charlie King, a former chair of the Croydon South Constituency Labour Party and a candidate in the local elections in Coulsdon West, called for a return to the committee system at the Town Hall, while Alan Donovan, an Old Coulsdon Labour candidate, said that a soon-to-be-published Labour manifesto would promise a review of the council’s governing culture.
The fall-guy for the occasion, the main speaker against the motion, was Andrew Pelling, a Labour councillor in Waddon – the closest Labour-held council ward to Coulsdon.
Pelling’s pitch was that however worthy the debate on council structure might be, Labour was campaigning on the issues most relevant to Croydon’s voters – crime, the NHS and housing. Critical of Croydon Tories’ appeal almost exclusively to home-owners in the south of the borough, Pelling predicted a strong Labour victory on May 3, highlighting his party’s appeal to a broad coalition of the young, renters and the elderly, and the local Conservatives’ opposition to extra tax to care for the vulnerable elderly.
Pelling claimed that the Tory manifesto’s 36 uncosted promises lacked credibility but Pollard dismissed the suggestion that those promises cost £83.8million as being based on a briefing from Labour finance spokesperson, Simon Hall.
Pelling also accused the Conservatives of losing their past pro-business, pro-development ethos and misleading voters about their being able to resist 30,000 new homes within planning law.
It was this which prompted Pollard’s apparently unscripted boast about losing money on planning appeals being “money well spent”. From the comfy armchairs at the back of the room it couldnot be seen with any certainty, but if Creatura was taking notes, Iago-like, then it was at this point that he will have dropped his pencil.
The motion was passed by 23 votes to 12 with 6 abstentions, aided by the bunch of Tory councillors taking time off from the campaign trail.
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If the Planning Committee were to act sensibly, either now or in the future, it would not be a question of expensive litigation.
All the time a group of highly paid sybarites use council money to go to Cannes to invite rapacious property developers to come and spoil Croydon, it seems like sticking one’s head in a lion’s mouth and asking it not to bite.
Nice try though Mr Pollard but I think spending money on damage limitation is not a good strategy. Start by caging the lion maybe!
The Tory Manifesto, with its unfeasible promises and lack of clarity about funding is yet another example of the rise of the post-truth movement in which anything goes, however specious, if it can attract votes. Two good predecessors and examples: The whole leaver Brexit campaign and a current USA President.
Sitting in comfy chairs as one of a “small but select” gathering- as described by your reporter, I came away with a different, less cynical, slant on the evening.
Firstly, and Mr Lee should have understood the function of the meeting, it was NOT a Husting but a debate, held by a local debating society. If he wants to see a “Husting” in action he should go along to the South Croydon Community Association venue at St Peters Church on Thursday (19th) night where I am sure he will find all the howlers and dodos he desires.
Secondly, given that all the seats were occupied, including chairs brought into the room, his sarcastic description of “less than packed” was ,in my opinion, ‘crap!. Moreover, as it was a free public meeting with specific rules like.. every speaker from the floor had five minutes of uninterrupted time to comment on what the main speakers said on “local matters”. It was also not unreasonable that the majority of the elderly attendees might have to the right of centre given that the Society’s catchment area is among the leafy suburbs in the South of the Borough- traditional Tory heartland.
It is also interesting to note that having slagged-off the presence of Barwell’s former ‘bag-carrier’ he failed to recognise both the Liberal and UKIP candidates. Hey-ho! perhaps my eyes were better that his.
Cutting, briefly, to the chase, neither speaker looked comfortable when reminded of their past competences (or perhaps incompetences). Cllr Pollard suggested that the Conservatives had no option but to continue with the CPO on the Stanhope land adjacent to East Croydon Station, in order to allow Arrowcroft to dump an unwanted Labour-inspired white elephant of a stadium there, thus killing more than 4 acres of new-green leisure space and a new Warehouse Theatre that would have replaced the unique cultural facility declared ‘unviable’ by his predecessor Mike Fisher
while Cllr Pelling glossed over a question that asked “how much did the Labour Council pay to buy back the library services previously sold off by the Conservatives. As a postscript to the ‘Arrowcroft’ affair, readers might be interested that to know that an Arrowcroft executive had, in fact, written publicly that there could have been no stadium if, following an internal review after the land acquisition, had it proved to be unviable; ie: having got the land they would have changed its use. This is a situation the Council now finds itself in again with all the development companies, including Brick by Brick, who say that if a proposal is deemed financially unviable in their eyes, they will move the goalposts in the interest of profit. Council houses, of which the present Council have built NONE in four years, are not built for profit, but for social purpose; their building should aim to cover its cost, bearing in mind that the largest factor there is the land, which the Council can price as it wishes.
Finally, with regard to what was not said at the meeting, neither speaker offered an election pledge in their manifestos that, were their party to achieve control of the Council they would, within 6 months, get rid of the CEO and her £100,000 a year acolytes and appoint experienced personnel from within the present Administration, to do the work. They could hardly do worse, and at a lower salary.
Still, it remains to be seen what the St Peters church Husting brings out of the woodwork and, by implication, how much control the Councillors actually have over their, often recalcitrant, planning staff.
Yes, I was there, too, and concur that it was pretty full, which was an achievement given the fact the Society is sadly in danger of failing due to lack of attendance at its other debates.
I have to support Tim Pollard on this one: we should be prepared to pay to resist unwanted unsympathetic developments in the town as much as we can, even if in the end we lose. At least demonstrating our concern in this way will stop developers from seeing Croydon as a soft touch when planning their lucrative ant-heaps.
Putting all the party political stuff to one side in the run-up to local elections let’s not ignore the fact that planning in the borough of Croydon is dysfunctional and is not serving residents.
It’s actually not a party political issue, but an issue of governance revolving around how our local authority public servants regard themselves. And the CEO and the planning department do not see their primary role as to serve the borough’s residents.