KEN LEE reports on a troubling move in the battle for a community garden in Woodside, and the challenge it represents to the promises made by council leader Tony Newman
The community in South Norwood and Woodside was left reeling this morning, after heartless property speculators carried out their threats and plonked a shipping container on the children’s play area in the Love Lane garden.
Inside Croydon reported last month on how the Love Lane community garden had been lovingly created out of a scrap of wasteland beside the tram lines, over the course of nearly five years’ hard work by neighbours and friends, transforming it into a suburban oasis of flowers pots, fruit trees, vegetable patches and kids’ climbing frames and toys.
This latest bullying gesture by the landowners, Mayfair-based Global Acquisitions Group, could prove to be a real test of the council leadership’s commitment to defending and protecting the borough’s green spaces from development.
“They’ve used a shipping container,” one local said, almost in tears at the sight. “But this is them parking their tanks on our lawns.”
Love Lane is, in part, in the ward represented by Tony Newman, the leader of the Labour-run council.
Last month Newman repeated what he called “a 100 per cent guarantee” that he would protect the play space and that the landowners would not be able to build on the land.
This morning, Newman turned up at Love Lane to see what damage had been caused to the play area and gardeners’ sheds and equipment.
Locals who were at the gardens report that Newman sought to turn the situation into some kind of photo-op – though not by using a professional, paid photographer, but by getting residents to take pictures of him beside the container.
The resulting virtue-signalling tweet, rather than enhancing Newman’s reputation as a man of “actions, not words”, probably only served to expose his previous promises as mere bluster and empty rhetoric.
When Newman was unable to get in contact with Paul Scott, his ward colleague and the de facto chair of the council planning committee, he left the locals to get on with matters themselves and headed off for the Town Hall.
According to locals in the gardens this morning, Newman told them, “I’m not sure if there’s anything we can do about it.”
The landowners had written to residents living near the gardens in July, giving them a deadline date of August 5 to clear a section of the land, they said because it needed to be fenced off because Transport for London needed access to it for tram network works.
TfL denied all knowledge of this when contacted.
Their lies found out, the landowners then agreed not to move on to their land until after they had been able to have a meeting with Newman and Scott.
That meeting has yet to happen, but the property speculators appear intent on forcing the community off the garden which they have so lovingly created from what the developers had allowed to become a patch of toxic, derelict wasteland.
The owners do not have planning permission to build on the land, and Scott has said that, for once, he will look to block any applications to build on the land, which was previously part of playing fields.
Neighbours have obtained Asset of Community Value status for the gardens, which means that should the landowner ever wish to sell the property, they will need to give first refusal to the community group.
And that would be at the basic land value price, not the value it might have with planning permission.
This morning’s “pre-emptive strike” by the landowners appears to have done little lasting damage, with equipment and pots having mostly been moved up the green from where the shipping container has been placed.
But the area’s small stage, used for kids’ concerts and other events, has been blocked by the container and may not be retrievable.
Emma Hope-Fitch, one of the organisers of the gardens, was the guest on our latest podcast, Under The Flyover.
She explained about the hard work and community bonding that the transformation work had achieved, how what was once aa local no-go-zone for children had become a much-appreciated play space, and how she hoped that, with the help of the council and local councillors, the existential threat from the landowners might be seen off.
You can get a taster of that interview here:
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