Residents trying to save the Love Lane community garden from developers have been told by one of their ward councillors that Croydon will not step in with a compulsory purchase order for the plot of land.
As Inside Croydon first reported last month, the community garden, which has been lovingly transformed by friends and neighbours over the past five years from a toxic piece of dumping ground into part play space, part flower garden and part allotment, is now under existential threat from its Mayfair-based landowners.
A week after Global Acquisitions Group had a shipping container dumped in one corner of the gardens in a gesture, apparently, to show their determination to reclaim the gardens from the people, and despite promises of action from the council, the container remains in place.
It was, however, “love bombed” over the weekend, ahead of a special kids’ play open day.
Grafitti, bunting and slogans appeared on the container overnight, including one message: “All you need is love”.
The Love Lane community gardens straddle two council wards: South Norwood and Woodside.
Residents say that since the container appeared last week, when council leader Tony Newman, a councillor for Woodside, appeared for a photo op and to repeat his “100 per cent guarantee” that the council would not grant planning permission to allow building on the gardens, they have heard nothing further from any of their six councillors, apart from one brief email from Newman, reiterating the position that the council is relying on the plot being protected from development through its status as Metropolitan Open Land.
Newman’s email stated:
“Thank you for your message. Yes we have confirmed again in our recent Local Plan that Love Lane is rightly MOL and therefore cannot be built on. The community garden is a brilliant local asset and we are doing all we can working with the local community to protect it in the long term. Best Wishes, Tony, Leader, LB Croydon”.
Residents are now asking whether Newman’s promise to “do all we can” actually amounts to much.
Usually, there would be little that a council could do over the fate of a plot of privately owned land, except through the planning system, while the owner is entitled to keep returning to the council with planning applications for their property until, eventually, they are successful.
Locals don’t need to have very long memories to recall when this council, urged on by one of the Woodside councillors, Newman’s mate Paul Scott, managed to overlook MOL status for a section of the nearby South Norwood Country Park, just in order to provide the Oasis Arena Academy with a car park.
Elsewhere in the borough, Green Belt status has been waived on Scott’s watch, as the de facto chair of the planning committee, to enable public playing fields to be built on in South Croydon.
The one real option to end the impasse with the landowners in favour of the friends and neighbours who have created the Love Lane gardens, which also now has Asset of Community Value status, would be for the council to CPO it.
If the site was ever granted planning permission, say for housing, the land might be worth an estimated £2.5million, perhaps more.
But as it stands now, without planning permission, the land is probably worth less than £150,000.
The council is currently involved in CPO-ing most of the town centre on behalf of big business Westfield and Hammerson’s £1.4billion redevelopment.
Yet according to some residents within the Love Lane group, they have been told by a senior council figure that issuing a CPO for the community gardens “would not be an appropriate use of council funds”. Residents are suspicious that this is being used as an excuse to keep the development option open.
Since 2014, Scott has become notorious for repeatedly supporting schemes through the planning system that have been put forward by private developers and the council itself, and which build flats on patches of green space, children’s playgrounds or which abut the gardens of existing residents.
Scott, with Newman’s backing, could probably use his considerable influence at the Town Hall to get a CPO for the site very speedily, and remove the threat of development forever.
Worried residents are beginning to ask why, after this saga over the use of the land has dragged on for five years, Scott and Newman have failed to take such decisive action, despite all their platitudes about protecting the gardens.
Yesterday they launched a petition explicitly calling on their Woodside councillors to organise a council CPO of the open space.
The petition states, “We, The Friends of Love Lane Green need our Woodside councillors to pursue a Compulsory Purchase Order to bring a community green space back into public ownership.
“Love Lane Green is a piece of Metropolitan Open Land that was sold off when the Greater London Council was disbanded in the 80s. The green was a thriving community space and playing field, however the community were not informed of the planned sale, which they could have easily raised funds for.
“Over the following years the site had been allowed to fall into ruin, its MOL status has protected it from development. The owner has tried to prevent the community from accessing the land and as a result, the site was overgrown and blighted with fly-tipping, making it unsafe to use the footpath that runs adjacent to the site.
“Since 2015 the Friends of Love Lane Green have cleared areas of rubbish, hazardous waste and overgrown areas to create a community garden, recognised by Croydon Council as an Asset of Community Value.
“We now learn that the owner of the land has licensed the space and intends to erect a fence to prevent the community gaining access to maintain the site. An agent acting on behalf of the owner has circulated misinformation and installed a container in the community garden with the intention of storing materials on site for when work commences.
“This affects the whole of the community in the Love Lane area as the open space is valued and used by young and old. Regular play events are held here, along with gardening with older residents. The path has been kept clear, making active travel easier. Everyone in this community benefits from this open space.
“We believe we have a strong case for a compulsory purchase order to return the land, in its entirety, to public ownership. Once returned to the community we will work in partnership with the council to maintain the green.”
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