CROYDON COMMENTARY: Having seen last Monday’s full meeting of the council in the Town Hall chamber, it seems that SEBASTIAN TILLINGER is deeply unimpressed
Labour Party members know it. Conservative Party members know it. We all know it. Croydon Council may be democratically elected, but as a local government, it is failing.
Witnessing the last full council meeting before the summer recess was deeply disappointing. Croydon lacks a leader. There were plenty of moments at that meeting where a strong leader with accountability and a sense of purpose could have rallied everyone, instil unity and do something that is seen to be working for the people of this borough.
Not so with Tony Newman.
Newman sits back and watches events unfold. He is a spectator leader. He is not the right person to lead one of London’s largest boroughs. This was demonstrated last Monday for everyone to see. This is local, entrenched, partisan politics where the mediocre rise to the top bolstered by local party organisations.
And it’s convened by a pantomime ceremonial mayor who was only just in control of proceedings.
Croydon deserves better than this. Croydon needs an elected mayor. An elected mayor would stand on their own platform, they’d have to engage with all communities, they’d have to hold their own in public debate and have a broad understanding of all department portfolios across the council. One thing you can say for sure: this would never be Tony Newman and it’s for this reason the current council leader is not up to the job.
How much more do we have to endure from this council administration? They are going through the process, an almost customary processes of democracy, but the needs and wishes of this borough is left behind. It is shambolic, bumbling local government at its very worse.
The results of this impacts everyone in Croydon – residents and businesses.
An example is how Newman’s lack of leadership and his lack of understanding of the importance of planning policy has allowed Paul Scott to drive through his personal political planning agenda in this borough. Scott, until recently the chair of the planning committee, is unchecked, he has a personal dislike of the concept of green suburbs and he is pushing through a politically driven policy to radically change them.
This is lazy planning. This is opening the doors so wide for developers that the rules are no longer relevant. The more Croydon residents complain about it, the more Scott turns the screw.
Newman sits by, watching this. He never comments on it. He has no opinion on it. And yet he’s the leader of our council. Newman is unable to bring the political weight of his mandate to bear on these important local issues.
The planning regime in this borough obliterates local opinion.
In 2015, the Mayor of London published a comprehensive list of potential development sites in each borough. The list was broken down into types of sites including those with brownfield status. Croydon was in the top three of all boroughs in Greater London with the most brownfield development area. Fact.
And yet Newman allows Scott to imply the reverse. He allows Scott to pursue his personal agenda of achieving 33 per cent of the borough’s housing from the demolition of large family houses in our suburbs – obliquely known as Windfall sites.
This is totally unprecedented. No other local authority in the UK is even close to attempting this scale of obliteration to its existing suburbs. For Scott to attempt to justify the divisive tool he’s created to achieve this, Planning Document SPD2, by announcing it has won a certificate at a London local planning club award ceremony is deeply insulting to the residents of this borough.
Remember, all councils in London are subject to the same new housing figures from the Greater London Authority. Other local authorities look on bewildered by our extreme responses and Croydon, under Scott and Newman, bending over backwards to comply with the GLA. This is weak leadership and a poor balance of local and wider London needs.. Not a response based on reason or sustainable planning but one that is purely politically motivated.
And this is the problem – Newman is not in control of politics in this borough. He is unable to take on local accountability or stand up to the GLA. Sutton Council has to meet the same housing demands as Croydon, but they can do it on existing brownfield sites. And they have fewer of these than Croydon!
We need local devolution but we also need the calibre of our local politicians to be improved. Something has to change or Croydon will be forever scarred by Scott’s fumbled planning policies.
Croydon local government makes most sense when rooted in locality, in coherent communities used to running their own affairs. The cities and county boroughs inherited from the 19th century were such bodies. They attracted good local people to serve their councils, as happens today in Germany, France and the United States.
The answer for Croydon is not Newman and his stooge, Scott.
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