Greedy property developers, who are trying to bully a group of neighbours off the community gardens they have created in South Norwood, have erected a six-foot fence around a children’s play area in Love Lane without seeking any planning permission.
And Paul Scott, the council’s de facto planning chief, has suggested that there’s nothing that he can do about it.
Love Lane is the award-winning community gardens and play space, which has been transformed from a dump by the hard work of a group of neighbours over the past four years.
The strip of land was originally part of playing fields, some of which were used when the tram network was built. What was left on the Love Lane side of the tracks was derelict for more than a decade and became a dumping ground for fly-tippers and builders.
“It was so dirty and toxic, you almost felt your children might need a tetanus jab after they’d been on it,” one of the community gardeners said. “Now it is all clean and clear, no one worries about their children playing there any longer at all.”
But as of today, children can no longer play on part of the community park because the landowners, Mayfair-based Global Acquisitions Group, have had six-foot high steel fencing erected around it.
Global don’t have planning permission for the site, and the community gardeners have managed to acquire Asset of Community Value status for the gardens. This means that should the owner ever wish to sell the property, they will need to give first refusal to the community group, and offer it for sale at the basic land value price, not the value it might have with planning permission.
Croydon Council, and the council leadership, including council leader Tony Newman, have given a “100 per cent guarantee” that planning permission would not be given to the owners, for land which is designated as Metropolitan Open Land.
At the end of September, there was a meeting with the ward councillors, the council’s planning director, Heather Cheesbrough, and residents. Since Love Lane gardens are partly in Woodside, this meant that among those attending the meeting were Newman, his best mate and cabinet member for planning, Scott, together with cabinet member Hamida Ali.
“They all supported maintaining access to the green and the council would take on a licence for the garden and Friends of Love Lane would continue to maintain the site,” one local told Inside Croydon.
The council has so far refused to consider issuing a Compulsory Purchase Order for the land, on behalf of the community, and which is estimated could cost less than £150,000.
“The council officials and councillors were all very positive that an arrangement could be reached.” Local MP Sarah Jones has also become involved in trying to ensure that planning regulations are followed properly.
Yet Global Acquisitions responded to the council’s licensing approach by stating that not putting up a fence is not an option, they said because they want to protect potential future plans.
And so workmen appeared on site yesterday, claiming to be from Transport for London – something which locals do not believe. By the end of the day, they had erected a lengthy stretch of industrial, stainless steel fencing, at least six-foot tall, and managed to damage a mature oak tree into the bargain.
“They just started to carve up the base of the tree so that they could put in their fence posts,” one witness said.
Today, when they were approached by residents on an emergency site visit arranged for Councillor Scott, the workmen suggested that they could not understand English.
Because of the height of the fencing, it has been suggested that whoever has instigated this work should have first have obtained planning permission from the council.
“They are enclosing the area without giving formal eviction notices or allowing for Friends of Love Lane to rescue play equipment,” one of the residents told Inside Croydon.
“The new licensee has lied from the outset about negotiating access and is now destroying the community garden. I was also told today by one of these guys that there would be a gate, which is just insult to injury. Our community do not need to see a cage every day let alone socialise in one.”
Another member of the community group told Inside Croydon, “The owners don’t have planning permission, and the ACV is a serious barrier to them ever getting permission to develop the site. TfL has said, more than once, that they don’t need to fence off the area to access the tram lines.
“So all this is a blatant attempt to intimidate the community and bully our kids off the play space and out of the gardens. They think we’ll just give up. Well we’re not having it.”
Councillor Scott visited Love Lane this morning, though he did not offer the residents much hope of speedy or firm action from Croydon Council. The planning process, apparently, is a lengthy one.
“Though when you don’t have planning permission, and you want to fence off a children’s play area, and you’re a multi-million-pound property speculator, Croydon Council lets you do as you like,” one angry SE25 resident said today.
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