‘A once in a generation opportunity to shape a new Croydon’

We’ve had red Labour. There’s been “Blue Labour”. Now, a handful of councillors from the north of the borough want to see a truly “Green” Labour in Croydon.

A network of ‘green corridors’ are among the measures suggested in a call for ‘rapid action’ over the environment and inequalities

Learning from many of the environmental benefits of the coronavirus lockdown, and the many deadly lessons in inequalities around the borough which covid-19 highlighted, five Labour councillors have been joined by a dozen civic societies and organisations calling on the council to deliver on its six-year-old promises “to make Croydon London’s greenest borough”.

There’s more than a sense from the letter – which appeals for “rapid action” over inequalities and pollution issues – that the signatories suspect that council leader’s Tony Newman’s Croydon Climate Crisis Commission will amount to nothing more than another exercise in adding to the planet’s hot air emissions while providing another £100,000 or so on to the bottom line of David Evans’s The Campaign Company.

The letter is addressed to Newman and Miatta Fahnbulleh, the chief exec of the New Economics Foundation, ostensibly the politically neutral figure dragged in to chair the talking shop.

As well as the councillors, the letter is signed by the Croydon BME Forum, the Living Streets Group, Croydon Extinction Rebellion, Mums for Lungs, the Crystal Palace Transition Town group, Peddle My Wheels, the Thornton Heath Community Action Team (a pet project of Jamie Audsley, the Labour councillor behind the letter), the Asian Resource Centre, Croydon Cycling Campaign, and the covid-19 Mutual Aid organisation that has sprung up around the borough to such effect in the last three months.

The letter comes with what they call their “Plan for a Croydon Green Recovery”, which they say “sets out our recommendations for how people and planet can recover together and we can avoid returning to ‘business as usual’.”

The appeal for a “new normal” in the post-covid world says, “Croydon, along with the country and the wider world is at a crossroads.

“Those living in crowded housing in the north of the borough have been both more likely to catch the disease and more likely to die from it, due to the inequalities of deprivation such as air pollution and poor health, whilst members of our BAME communities have been attacked with particular ferocity.

“The lock-down has been far more dangerous if your work is precarious, low paid or manual, or if you have limited or no access to outside space – in Croydon, too many have been in these situations.

“As a result you’ll know well it is now more important than ever that we take rapid action to create a more equitable society while also accelerating to transition to net-zero and biodiversity net gain.

“This crisis has laid bare the fundamental connection between healthy, flourishing and productive communities and a thriving environment. Restoring nature and robust environmental protection will help build resilience and reduce the risk of future global health and economic shocks.

“Many have also found personal resilience through engagement with nature and experienced what a greener Croydon could be like. We’ve realised the importance of access to green space for our health, of safe and pleasant walking routes and perhaps even how cycling can reveal a host of new green spaces…”.

A key part of the proposals is the creation of green corridors stretching from the town centre to all parts of the borough, beginning with London Road to Thornton Heath Pond.

Richard Mullins, an architect, has helped develop the plans. “The Green Corridor is a way of creating and improving access to green space in the north of the borough, fast. Through the creation of pocket parks, reallocation of kerbside space used by cars to green space, and the creation of protected cycle lanes and walking routes to connect existing green spaces, we can ensure that Croydon’s many green spaces – one of its key strengths as a borough – are better available to all our communities,” he said.

According to figures released by Public Health England, up to June 19 Croydon had the highest number of coronavirus cases in the whole of London, with 1,532.

London has been the worst affected region of the country, with 27,416 covid-19 cases record by the end of last week.

The Green Croydon letter emphases that those living in crowded housing in the north of the borough have been more likely both to catch the coronavirus and to die from it, due to worse air pollution and poor health. Members of black and ethnic minority communities have suffered particularly badly.

Muhammad Ali: walking and cycling supporter

“This crisis has laid bare the fundamental connection between healthy, flourishing and productive communities and a thriving environment,” Audsley said.

“Restoring nature and robust environmental protection will help build resilience and reduce the risk of future global health and economic shocks.”

Another councillor signatory, Broad Green ward’s Muhammed Ali, said, “Residents have realised the importance of access to green space for their health, of safe and pleasant walking routes, and perhaps even how cycling can reveal a host of new green spaces.

“Now we need to ensure everyone has access to quality green space.”

Their Green Recovery Plan for Croydon calls this “a once in a generation opportunity to shape a new world”, and Amy Foster, of the Croydon Living Streets organisation, warns, “All indicators are that traffic levels are set to rise to double what they were pre-lockdown in outer London boroughs like ours and this is why the Green Recovery Plan is vital right now.

“We know how important safe walking routes to our high streets are, to our green spaces and to walk and school. The Green Recovery Plan will help rebuild not only our economy but also our communities.

Less traffic on safer roads for cyclists and pedestrians is a cornerstone of the Green Recovery Plan

“Removing unnecessary motor traffic from our streets is about improving mental health and wellbeing, as we create calmer streets where socially distanced play and conversation is possible and healthy travel habits enabled.”

Foster’s fears for air quality in outer London are based on the expectations that the increased congestion charges in central London, and the extension of the ultra-low emissions zone as far as the South Circular, seem likely to push motor traffic into areas such as Croydon.

Among some of the Green Recovery Plan’s longer terms recommendations is a call to extend the ULEZ to the M25, therefore including the whole of south London, while developing a borough-wide controlled parking strategy, as a means of widening pavements and reducing driven trips (a step up from the on-the-hoof road closures and pavement widenings conducted in the past two months), and to finally deliver on decades-old promises to build tram network extensions to Sutton, Crystal Palace and Streatham.

Taken as a whole, the paper offers a comprehensive and commonsense overview of what much of Croydon has needed for some time, and long before covid-19 came along.

It also represents a thorough kick-start to the council’s own Climate Crisis Commission, which although announced in July 2019 has so far had just one meeting.

Among those backing the Green Recovery Plan and advocating better, less-polluting public transport is Crystal Palace Transition Town’s Angus Hewlett.

“The long-term plan for an expanded tram network will further help reduce car-dependency – improving air quality, freeing up street space for additional green infrastructure, and offering greater independence to people who can’t or don’t drive,” Hewlett says.

And Gareth Redmond-King, of the Croydon Cycling Campaign, said, “Croydon is the borough with the highest number of potential cycling trips in London, but at present has one of the lowest proportions of people cycling regularly, with fewer than 1 per cent of trips made by bike.

“The problem is that its 1960s-designed road network is a hostile environment even for experienced cyclists, and many minor roads are plagued by rat-running and aggressive driving, with little regard to 20mph limits.

“The proposed strategy of building ‘green’ connections between densely populated suburban centres like Thornton Heath and Addiscombe with the shops, employment and educational opportunities of the town centre a couple of miles away is well-suited to both the immediate situation relating to covid-19 – and the air quality and inactivity crises which have exacerbated its impact – as well as the longer-term need to transition away from carbon-intensive private transport.”

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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7 Responses to ‘A once in a generation opportunity to shape a new Croydon’

  1. Sebastian Tillinger says:

    A brilliant vision for Croydon. The protection and enhancement of existing green spaces and forming of new spaces should be put centre stage in our borough.

    If the right people get behind this it could be transformative.

  2. From your excellent summary I’d say this is exactly what is wanted. The car has been king in Croydon for far too long – ever since those misguided town planners of the 60s thought that polluting motor vehicles were the answer to our problems instead of the creator of many more.

    I don’t live in Croydon, but I’ve worked in the borough and shopped there and naturally have used any amount of transport to, from and through the town so I know it quite well and actually quite like it. However, most people I know treat the place with the kind of fear they’d accord a plague pit – and that was before those disastrous Covid-19 stats emerged. Croydon is unfairly treated in the media, which in turn doesn’t encourage the sort of positive thinking that’s needed for forward-looking strategies.

    When encouraging cycling, can the transport designers please put pedestrians first? Only some people are cyclists, but, with few exceptions, we are all pedestrians, and we are the most vulnerable road users. Lockdown has shown that we need to be protected from cyclists (and joggers) as much as they need to be protected from cars and trucks.

    Whatever is planned it should go hand in hand with a campaign of education in schools and beyond about safe and considerate road/transport use. No one should be allowed out on the streets on a bicycle without passing a cycling proficiency test, for example, and cyclists who break the rules should have to undergo some remedial training before they are let back on the streets. That, in turn, means that police (and council officials) need to get out of their cars and WALK. Because how can we have any truly sustainable focus in our transport planning if the decision-makers drive everywhere and therefore are part of the problem rather than the solution?

    There are lots of social, environmental and economic strands to all this, so it’s going to a challenging – but also an exciting and worthwhile – task. Best of luck to all involved.

  3. Lewis White says:

    If cars were built with very thin doors and shell, we would all drive a lot safer and leave the right amount of space beween each car. They would weigh less, which would take less fuel to move around, or could go further on one charge of electricity.

    Sadly, everyone likes to feel safe in their big metal box, so they get bigger, higher, more bloated and heavy every year.

    Maybe an engineer will come along, and, inspired by natural shell forms, will devise an ultra thin but ultra strong car structure with entrained air pockets. Of course, no-one would feel safe enough in a really thin shell, so it might have to be beefed up a bit, and reduced gradually over 50 years, to wean people off the human mind’s seemingly hard-wired connection between size and safety.

    The desire for going somewhere other than where we are is perhaps another hard wired human thing, engrained after tens or hundreds of thousands of years of migration across the planet, by land or sea, and now, by air. The problem, it seems to me, is not leisure travel, but the daily slog to work by car. Los Angeles I suppose is or used to be the supreme example, replicated by thousands of cities across the World, with a minimal public transport system.

    I think of all those who live out along the M4 corridor (ot the Thames valley, as it was once known).
    How many commuters could come in by train and bus, if they decided to. To be honest, rather than using sticks, the use of carrots –such as discounted travel, plus the all-important education that Stephen Spark mentions above–will probably get hearts and minds on side.

    Like many, I own and use a car, but try to minimise travel. Pre-covid, I used the bus and train constantly, and look forward to doing so agian, safely. When working, I was lucky to commute by train, and move around during the day on foot and by bus, and work less than an hour away. However, it is nice to go to rural places that are not served at all by public transport, and sometimes, it is convenient or necessary to drive down to the supermarket or wherever, and get the bulky shopping, DIY timber, bags of sand etc , or go to the garden centre to buy plants and compost, as it takes very little time as well . Do we really want to take half a day to go local shopping? I don’t suppose many have the time to spend or waste. We have other things to be doing.

    So, I say–keep the car, don’t tame it, but domesticate it, feed it with the least polluting fuel known to science (and sell that locally) and make it with as little an amount of material as possible. And make all of it it recyclable.

    And provide sufficient and affordably cheap parking in all our local centres and Croydon to make sure people don’t drive off to other boroughs. Keep ’em local . Just how is making them (and me) drive somewhere else any good for the people who live along the routes we will take. And how good for the overall Biosphere ?

    I am now so used to the 20mph speed limit in Croydon that I have learned to enjoy it–unless some impatient angry man or woman is on my tail. Occasionaly I will wave them past. I wonder what they think.


  4. Interesting and enjoyable article, very appropriate for the times….but that car has already been designed. in the late 50’s, living in France, I had one of the original 2CVs with no extras at all….absolutely pared down, plenty of space, no window winders, simple mechanics, enough speed to get you there, patience needed on hills (specially if loaded) frugal with fuel, easy to repair, no choice of body colour….wonderful and well before its time.

  5. I fully commend these Cllrs vision. Time is running out. Croydon Labour’s election plans going back years have promised to make the borough greener with safer cycling and walking. It has simply not materialised on any meaningful level.

    20mph was a good start, but it’s not enforced and therefore ignored by speeding drivers, especially in the north of the borough. This makes roads, even `quiet’ backstreets, dangerous. Even noise pollution from fast cars on streets around our local parks ruins those special moments of zen (think Grange Road/Grangewood Park).

    And nothing tangible has been done to reduce traffic and car dependency in Croydon – this is key.

    People won’t start cycling for local trips whilst they continue to face speeding, aggressive motorists. The regular near misses and close-pass punishments by a significant minority of drivers forced me off my bike a few years ago. I know many who’d like to get fitter on 2 wheels, to at least have a safe option, but with traffic levels and speed almost back to pre-lockdown levels, nothing will change until Croydon’s leadership stop window dressing.

    There’s clearly a problem at the top as Croydon is way behind the curve on green issues such as safe cycling routes. It takes balls to bring about real change. It means facing up to some angry residents (remember Norbury Avenue safe cycling experiment – yet more empty promises).

    Actions speak louder than words. And people like me have had enough of words. Yes, money is tight. Yes, it’s a real challenge. But many improvements – such as making cycle routes non-through roads for cars to stop rat runs – are relatively low cost. Greener thinkers in Croydon have waited long enough. Our support and patience is running out. Please listen to what these progressive and forward-thinking Councillors have to say. They are on the right side of the argument.

    • “…nothing will change until Croydon’s leadership stop window dressing.” ???
      Unfortunately that is an oxymoron as there is no leadership in Croydon
      Progressive of forward-looking or independent minded councillors are ignored as a matter of policy. Until we get a change in the way governance in Croydon is organised, either via a reversion to the Committee system or through a directly elected Mayor ( with safeguards) nothing will happen. That is something, at least, that can be relied upon. Not much else can be relied upon these days.

  6. Colin Cooper says:

    Oh, now I get it, making Croydon green is why nothing is done to maintain verges, trees, parks etc until they are so overgrown that you can’t see from one side to the other!

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