Two years ago, the council’s deputy leader gave her word that all the borough’s parks and open spaces would be protected from development. So guess what the Labour-run council has been caught out trying to do with a much-loved park that sits between Thornton Heath and Upper Norwood? KEN LEE reports
Croydon Council is flogging off part of a public park to the highest bidder.
A disused and – thanks to malign council neglect over many years – now derelict park lodge in Grangewood Park is to be auctioned off, together with a parcel of park land.
Grangewood Park is in SE25, between Thornton Heath and Upper Norwood.
For the last decade, an active Friends group has been working tirelessly to help maintain and enhance the park, despite cuts to council budgets.
But the community group has consistently complained that its efforts were being undermined by a neglectful and incompetent council, and now they have evidence in black and white that parts of the public park is to be sold. Not that anyone at the council had the common decency to let them in on this Town Hall secret.
The asset-stripping sale of Heath Lodge and accompanying public green space has been organised by the council despite public assurances given by Alison “Lying Cow” Butler, the council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for housing.
In a Town Hall public meeting as recently as this July, Butler actually called another councillor a “lying cow” when they had the audacity to highlight the possible threat to at least 30 parks and open spaces around the borough.
Yet earlier on that very same day, a senior council official was writing to one of Butler’s closest colleagues to advise of the proposed “sale of public open space” in Grangewood Park.
The email is dated July 18. The email was sent from Stephen Wingrave, the council’s head of the asset management and estates, to Simon Hall, the cabinet member for finance.
Writing about Heath Lodge in Grangewood Park, Wingrave said, “In order to dispose of the property it will be necessary to gain planning consent and also advertise the proposed disposal in the local paper as it will effectively be a sale of public open space.”
The email was obtained through Freedom of Information requests and published by something called the Thornton Heath Chronicle, a freesheet which is subsidised through thousands of pounds of grants from local Labour councillors.
The Lodge was built in the late 19th century in the grounds of the park, near the gate on Grange Road.
The council had previously come close to auctioning it in 2017, reckoning it could fetch at least £360,000. But public fury over Butler’s mishandling of planning protections for the borough’s parks saw the Lodge sale quietly dropped.
Instead, the council began to soft-soap angry residents, putting up a proposal that the abandoned building might be converted into four supported living units for people with autism, and combine this with a social enterprise café.
Having built up the hopes of locals with a distracting ruse, it was not long before the council was letting them down again, bleating about lack of money, claiming that their own plans, “would cost in excess of £1million to carry out the work. Unfortunately, the council does not have the funding to carry out those works”.
Despite promises to keep the Friends of Grangewood Park updated with its plans, the community group has received nothing from the council since, and it now seems that the Lodge and a bit of the park will be up for auction early in the new year.
The Lodge has been unoccupied since 2011, and despite repeated complaints to the council, which gave promises to secure the building and its grounds properly, it has been badly vandalised, broken into and used by fly-tippers.
The Chronicle reports that the council also intends to renege “on an earlier commitment to reinvest 25 per cent of the sale of the Lodge on much-needed park infrastructure, and spend it on ‘other open spaces and community facilities’.”
According to the council correspondence obtained by FoI, a restrictive covenant could be put on the building so that remains in residential use, but council officials seem disinclined to bother, as there is “nothing to stop” the new owners demolishing it.
The council correspondence also betrays a desire to keep the matter away from any public attention, describing the Friends of Grangewood Park as “press active”, and suggesting that the matter is “handled carefully”.
“We just need to agree what is ‘Heath Lodge land’ and what is ‘park land’ and decide whether we are disposing of part of the park for garden and if so, we will need to go through the process and advertise,” a council official wrote.
The plan was to flog off a bit of the park with the Lodge: “By including the triangular piece of land on the Western edge of the lodge I believe that we avoid the issue of granting a right of way.”
The Lodge (which is administered by the council’s housing department, which comes under Butler’s cabinet brief) is next to an area identified by London Wildlife Trust as part of the ancient woodland that is the Great Northwood.
Which is all potentially embarrassing, and politically very damaging, right in the middle of a General Election campaign, for Labour’s Croydon candidates who are seeking re-election, Steve Reed OBE and Sarah Jones.
Back in October 2017, Butler issued a statement in which she guaranteed that green spaces were safe from any possible development. This assurance was necessary after the council’s planning department had made a pig’s ear of its draft of the Local Plan, and the planning inspector dismissed Croydon’s submission for a local green space designation.
In a version of her statement tailored to suit Reed’s Croydon North constituency, Butler (below) said, “There is no threat to any of the green spaces in Upper Norwood. All remain fully protected. This includes Upper Norwood Recreation Ground, Beaulieu Heights, and all the other green spaces in the area.
“The Local Plan is an official document that shows where the council will and will not allow new building to take place, and what kind of building is allowed. Croydon Council wanted to create a new category of ‘Local Green Space’ in addition to the existing protection given to green spaces in the borough.
“The Government-appointed inspector has not supported this new category. This seems to be the cause of the misunderstanding. He is not supporting the new designation, but this has no impact whatsoever on existing protection for green spaces.
“They all remain fully protected and no building can take place on them.”
Which, of course, was a deliberate lie by Butler.
For Butler must have known then that by “fully protected”, she meant no protection whatsoever.
Even in the latest update to the council’s Local Plan, which Butler and her husband, Town Hall bruiser and professional architect Paul Scott, want to push through with undue haste, the council is looking at actively removing Green Belt protection from three large tranches of land in the south of the borough, so that they can send in the bulldozers and concrete over virgin green fields to allow developers to build 6,000 homes.
Few, if any, of those thousands of new homes would be truly “affordable”, or available for social rents as council housing.
Yesterday, Butler was busy taking John Healey, Labour’s shadow housing minister, on a tour of Brick by Brick housing sites, telling him about all the council homes that are being built in Croydon.
Butler was lying, again. Croydon Council has not built a single new council home since 2014.
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