Our environment correspondent, PAUL LUSHION, was at the council’s ‘sustainability summit’ – staged in an unsustainable venue where guests were drinking from single-use cardboard cups – and found it to be full of contradictions
Tony Newman, the Labour leader of Croydon Council, took to the stage at his favourite town centre venue yesterday morning and declared a climate emergency.
Newman claimed during his speech that he had based his thinking for this “important” policy announcement on a meeting he had had with four- and five-year-olds at a Norwood pre-school.
“I’m not sure what’s worse, the grandstanding hypocrisy, or his vacuity,” said one conservationist as they listened to Newman drone on about making Croydon “London’s Greenest Borough”, while offering not a single new measure to achieve that.
The conservationist had turned up for the event out of genuine concern for the environment, globally and locally, and not just because the council was doling out 10-quid meal tickets seemingly to anyone who was passing.
For while Newman and his numpties staged this event in a disposable venue that had been built with steel girders with a significant carbon footprint, as its clientele sipped their over-priced Mochas from single-use cardboard cups, the environmentalist went through a litany of current Croydon Council policies and commitments, all backed by the Labour administration, and all of which will play a part in hastening the world’s destruction.
Currently, Newman and his Labour council have these notable environmentally unfriendly policies…
- Support for the building of a second runway at Gatwick Airport – where Newman believes that solar-powered aircraft will resolve his pollution dilemma for him
- A commitment to paying £10million per year to burn the borough’s rubbish, including material which should be recycled, at a polluting incinerator at Beddington, where Croydon has a contract with the operators which includes disposing of radioactive waste
- Backing the building of a £1.4billion shopping mall – all that steel and concrete! – which will attract an estimated 10,000 cars and their exhaust fumes into the town centre daily
- Systematically concreting over playing fields, kids’ playgrounds and patches of green land in its drive to build homes, the majority of which are going for private sale
“Creating a few wildflower sanctuaries along the roadsides is great,” said the environmentalist, “but it will do little to stop all the particulates and other pollution coming from the incinerator or to remove the emissions from all the cars driving into Westfield.”
Dismissing the summit as “just a greenwash”, their takedown of Newman’s sudden, new-found enthusiasm for environmental issues was: “It’s all so much hot air.”
Newman has been promising to make Croydon London’s Greenest Borough for five years – it was a key plank of the 2014 Croydon Labour election manifesto, so much of which has been ignored or forgotten.
Take, for example, recycling.
While Newman’s council and its rubbish contractors have managed to impose thousands of often unwanted and unnecessary wheelie bins across Croydon, the borough’s recycling rates have been getting worse on his watch.
According to official figures, in 2014-2015 – the year when Newman and Labour took charge at the Town Hall – Croydon was recycling 39.9 per cent of domestic rubbish. According to Defra, the environment department, by 2017-2018 Croydon managed to recycle just 38 per cent, ranking our borough 116th of more than 300 local authorities in England.
Environmentalists predict that once the voracious Beddington incinerator furnaces are fully operational (the industrial complex, built with public money on what was supposed protected open land, is nearly a year late), that recycling ratio could get even worse.
Most recently, Labour in Croydon has been caught on the back-foot by climate campaigners, including the Greens and the Extinction Rebellion movement, as well as thousands of school children who managed to set the news agenda three months ago.
In the five years since Newman became council leader, we have moved on from just talking about “climate change” to talking about a climate emergency.
The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in October 2018, was quite clear. We have just 11 years left to deliver the “rapid and far-reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities”, and we need to prevent going past the tipping points where we can no longer avoid extreme weather events.
Nearly 900 Croydon residents have signed an Extinction Rebellion petition calling on the council to declare a climate emergency in the borough, so Newman’s declaration yesterday was, in so many ways, just his playing catch-up. Inevitably, what was put forward was regarded as too little, too late.
Without any of his assertions being open to questioning, Newman said, “Already we are taking action to improve air quality through emissions-based parking charges, to increase recycling rates and to protect our green spaces.” No one was able to check whether he had his fingers crossed behind his back.
“This event today is just the start,” Newman said, adding, “We will be asking the people of Croydon for their ideas,” suggesting, not for the first time, that he is devoid of any of his own.
“Together we draw up a local plan to deliver sustainable energy, transport, housing, waste and more.
“This council will work hand in hand with an incoming Labour government to deliver a Green New Deal for Croydon.” Newman failed to elaborate on what this might actually entail.
“At the next meeting of Croydon Council, the Labour party will be calling for the council to declare a Climate Emergency.” We cannot be certain, but there was no sound of “whooping” from the audience.
One of the other speakers at the summit was David Evans, presumably not because of his environmental expertise, but more on the basis that the council has hired his business, The Campaign Company, to conduct some research work with the Croydon public. It’s always good to keep council work “in the family”, and Evans does share a daughter with Alison Butler, the council’s deputy leader.
Evans was politically prominent 20 years ago, heading up Tony Bliar’s first two election campaigns, when the PR approach of focus-grouping every subject, and then telling the public exactly what they wanted to hear, seemed a winning formula.
The trouble with this vox pop approach to forming policy is that you tend to get policies based on opinions, rather than evidence or research. Thus, Evans regaled the audience with his banal findings that residents thought that the reputation of Croydon still an issue, there is a lack of awareness of a number of Croydon parks, and people want punishments for crime.
Your Council Tax helped to pay for these startling “insights”.
Perhaps Evans sensed that he was not taking the audience with him on his “journey”.
“We must not sneer at anyone’s view,” he said.
Shifa Mustafa, the £150,000 per year council exec who is in charge of economic growth – something usually anathema to sustainability – tried not to sneer when she was asked whether Westfield could be built with zero car parking spaces, with its customers instead using some form of park and ride or even park and walk schemes from peripheral car parks.
Westfield, Mustafa said, was “an economic prize”. Maybe she hadn’t got the sustainability memo?
“We can’t get everything we want,” Mustafa said, admitting the council’s powerlessness in the face of big, multi-national developers, and highlighting once again the abundant contradictions between what she, Newman and their council colleagues say, and what they do.
In five years, the council has done little to make cycling a safer, more sustainable transport option around the borough – despite squandering nearly £500,000 on the staging of three televised cycle races in the town centre.
Some of the other claims made at the summit for the council’s environmental successes did not stand up to too close a scrutiny, either.
The council is imposing a £300 parking tax on older vehicles, supposedly to reduce emissions. Yet anyone wealthy enough to be able to afford a hybrid or electric vehicle will struggle to find charging points in the borough to enable them to avoid burning carbon fuel.
Earlier this year, Croydon announced that it was to install eight electric vehicle charging points, at three locations. All three locations are around a mile from the Town Hall.
The council boasts of plans to install 400 charging points, which they say will be done by 2022. At the current rate of just eight per year, it could be 2069 before all 400 new car plugs are available to the people of Croydon.
One measure announced yesterday was that there would be less grass cutting around the borough’s verges and roadsides, and there will be insect-friendly wildflower seeding of the sites around the borough. This, though, won’t begin until this autumn, and will take three years.
A £250,000 council fund has been set up to help a range of community sustainable initiatives – once again, lacking in ideas of their own, the clueless council leadership is relying on residents to show them what’s required.
One shining example of what can be achieved with zero or modest resources is the Crystal Palace Transition Town, with its weekly food market, vegetable growing groups, food waste schemes, a cargo bike pool, energy switching deals to sustainable power sources and a plethora of other projects.
Yet this group went entirely unmentioned by Newman and his numpties. They really don’t have much of a clue at all…
“We were all excited and non-plussed at the same time,” Andrew Kennedy, of the Croydon Transition Town group, who was at the summit, wrote on social media.
Kennedy highlighted the contradiction of the council inviting 10,000 cars into Croydon per day but heavily penalising residents whose cars are stationary most of the time. “On our table we decided that we should behave as if there was an emergency, you know, set targets, put someone in charge, have a point of contact.
“But there was no sign of this happening.”
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