CROYDON COMMENTARY: While getting out and about during the covid-19 crisis, PETER UNDERWOOD, pictured left, has discovered parks and open spaces that need more care, and which are coming under increasing threat of development – from the Labour council and Tory government
During lockdown, a lot more of us discovered how green Croydon really is. Let’s keep it that way.
During my years working with The Conservation Volunteers in Croydon, one of the recurring things I’ve found is taking the volunteers to one of our parks or woodlands and hearing them say “I never even knew this place was here.”
It’s always been a great feeling when I could introduce people to another of Croydon’s “hidden gems”, but it is always mixed with a sadness that there are so many people who have lived here for years and know nothing of the fantastic places we have right on our doorsteps.
I think this has changed quite a lot during lockdown.
As we began to live with the restrictions imposed because of coronavirus, faced with the restrictions on where we could go, many looked for a patch of green near where they live and discovered one of our many green spaces nearby.
These spaces became a vital part of people’s everyday lives. They were places to escape from brick walls, to go for a walk, go cycling, or just somewhere to let the children run wild for a while. Even on days when I couldn’t leave the house, I was very grateful for being able to look out of my window and see a few trees and some greenery.
When I went out for a walk I met so many people who were discovering the green spaces near me. The routes I normally had to myself were now often crowded. In the woodlands near me, I also began spotting the South Croydon Rocks. These painted stones were started by a local girl, Freya, and her mother Louisa Middleweek. They started putting out a few painted stones in February and set up a Facebook group, but things really took off in lockdown with more than 500 new members joining in the first month.
As Louisa explained, “Freya wanted to do something fun and creative in our community that included everyone but didn’t need to cost any money.”
“We are so delighted that it’s caught on locally and it’s giving people a good reason to get creative at home and then get active putting them out.”
For those people who couldn’t get outside to enjoy the arrival of the spring flowers, Croydon Friends of the Earth also started their #BloomingCroydon hashtag on Twitter. This provided an opportunity for people to share fantastic photos of our green spaces in their flowery glory – everything from garden and allotment blooms, to the colourful gardens of Coombe Wood, to the carpets of woodland bluebells.
One of the other pleasing things I’ve seen recently as lockdown restrictions have been eased is that the number of people visiting our green spaces appears to have continued at a higher level. Now that people have found these great places, they are continuing to use them.
But during lockdown I also came across some of the threats to our green spaces.
The first is a bi-product of their popularity. We have probably all seen the pictures going round social media of park bins overflowing. While it would be great if people took home their rubbish instead of leaving it in the park as the council has requested, there is a basic issue that as more people are using parks, more work is needed to maintain them.
Croydon Council is in a financial crisis and is looking to cut staff, so we are unlikely to see more council employees in our parks. Funding has also been cut to the charities that help look after our green spaces and volunteer groups are not able to take up the extra work. If you can volunteer with your local park or woodland’s friends group, then I am sure they would be glad of the help.
A second threat to our open spaces is to their very existence, as planning permission is being given to build on them. On my daily exercise and as part of my volunteering to deliver food and prescriptions, I got to visit many of these threatened green spaces.
From Hawthorn Crescent in Selsdon, to Wontford Road Green in Kenley, to the entrance to the Hutchinson’s Bank nature reserve at New Addington’s Fairchildes Avenue, I saw local spots of greenery that are being lined up for building work. There are loads more sites across the whole of Croydon facing similar existential threats.
Croydon’s Labour-run council deserves the criticism they are receiving for these destructive and unnecessary plans. There are plenty of local campaigns against these projects and they, too, would welcome your support.
Unfortunately, the Conservative government have announced they will be getting rid of the limited planning power we have to object to these types of developments. A bad situation could soon get much worse.
Local Conservatives have voiced no objections to these changes. Some are hypocritically still claiming that they are against these types of building plans, while their government is going to give developers whatever they want – which of course increases the threat to our green spaces.
Despite these problems I still believe there is some power in democracy in this country. So now that more of us have discovered our brilliant parks and woodlands, more of us need to stand up to protect them and demand that our government at local and national levels do more to look after them.
Croydon Council has recently issued a survey to ask people about their use of our green spaces during and after lockdown. I would urge you all to complete it (it only takes about five minutes) and make sure you tell the council how important your green spaces are.
As the song says, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”. So let’s do all we can to save paradise and stop them putting up more building plots.
- Peter Underwood is the Green Party’s candidate for Croydon and Sutton in the London Assembly which are due to be held next May
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