Croydon Council has cancelled tonight’s planned cabinet meeting at the Town Hall and has scrapped the full meeting of the borough’s 70 councillors that was due to be held in the chamber next Monday, as council execs slowly get round to recognising the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision to abandon these “public meetings” – to which the public would not be allowed entry – came belatedly, with the decision not to go ahead with tonight’s cabinet only circulated to councillors this morning.
In a curt email from chief executive Jo Negrini’s democratic services department, they told the borough’s elected representatives, “In light of the current situation the meeting of Cabinet scheduled for Monday, 23rd March, 2020, 6.30pm has been cancelled.”
Of course, anyone with access to the internet, television, radio or newspapers will have known that “the current situation” has been “current” for more than two weeks. Except in Croydon, it would seem.
The decision not to go ahead with next Monday’s full council meeting was noted as being a “cross-party decision”.
Yet despite government medical advice to avoid all non-essential travel and any public gatherings, the council is still listing Thursday’s meeting of the planning committee as going ahead.
“It’s like we’re in a parallel universe,” one council worker told Inside Croydon.
“We’re all waiting for Negrini to make the call and shut down the offices, but the decision doesn’t seem like it will ever come.”
Some council staff working in Fisher’s Folly are particularly concerned that their working environment makes them more susceptible to the spread of germs and diseases. After renting out floors of the council’s offices to bring in some income for the borough, council staff are now more tightly packed in Fisher’s Folly than they used to be, and they are also expected to “hot desk”, which could also accelerate the spread of the virus.
Correspondence, seen by Inside Croydon, between council officials and members of the Cycle Forum, which was due to hold its meeting at the Town Hall tomorrow night, demonstrates quite how reluctant the council has been to abandon its “business as usual” stance – or how slow it has been to realise the seriousness of covid-19.
The Cycle Forum was only cancelled last Wednesday, and then only after several members of the committee flagged up the absurdity of going ahead.
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“I understood meetings had gone to ‘essential only’ and I am not sure the Cycle Forum, as much as it is important and effective, can count as essential,” one Forum member wrote.
Another member made the case: “Most businesses across the capital are now making arrangements for staff to work from home, and following on from the suspension of sporting events, cinemas, theatres and art galleries have closed their doors.
“It’s very important that we all minimise contact with other people, to avoid contracting the virus and prevent it being passed on to others. So, I think Croydon Council should follow the lead set by other organisations and fall into line with the advice of Public Health England and others…
“The technology is available. Please do the right thing and use it.”
In the case of the council’s planning committee, for some reason, the “right thing” does not appear to have registered.
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Unfortunately this does not stop the zealots that run Brick by Brick in their mission to ‘Concrete over Croydon’. I see that, at a time when it is impossible for neighbours to meet-up face to face, they have lodged a planning application with Croydon Council to take the tiny patch of grass on Theobald Road,10 feet away from 150 year Victorian terraces, to build a 4 storey block of flats. I would not be surprised to find that they have ‘gone under the radar’ with all the other building plans for small green spaces in Croydon. We have until Sunday 5th April to lodge on line objections. If the Planning Committee can’t meet, which I expect will be the case, all they will have will be poorly circulated and by then dated, public responses. Day by day I feel 1984 is creeping closer!