CROYDON IN CRISIS: Council pushes on with its plans to sell off part of Grangewood Park, a ‘quiet secluded oasis in the heart of a busy local area’, while Blairite MP does nothing to oppose.
By STEVEN DOWNES
As Steve Reed OBE, the Progress MP for Croydon North, stood in a public open space yesterday morning for a television outside broadcast to rail against Tory government plans to help their developer mates make juicy profits by building on parks and green spaces, the Labour-controlled local council in his own constituency was starting moves to sell off a public park to developers.
Grangewood Park sits between Thornton Heath and Upper Norwood, in Reed’s constituency. Labour-run Croydon Council has twice before tried to flog off the Victorian park-keeper’s cottage, Heath Lodge, and twice before has been forced to back down, most recently in January 2020 when more than 3,000 residents signed a petition of protest.
Reed has been all but silent on the matter of the sale of Heath Lodge and a chunk of Grangewood Park, either when the council, under his mates Tony Newman and Alison Butler, was seeking to off-load the long-neglected heritage building and a parcel of park land, or more recently, when its sale has been hastened because of the bankruptcy of the borough caused by Newman, Butler and their clique.
The disastrous mismanagement of Croydon Council by his Blairite mates has been a cause of deep embarrassment over the past year or more to Reed, who just happens to be Labour leader Keir Starmer’s choice as shadow communities and local government secretary.
It was in that role that Reed was wheeled out yesterday for Sky TV’s Sunday morning politics slot, to voice the Labour Party’s justifiable opposition to Conservative proposals to remove local planning controls.
But in so doing, Reed’s closeness to political liabilities such as Newman, Butler and, increasingly, new council leader Hamida Ali, opened himself up to equally justifiable accusations of rank hypocrisy.
Reed accused the Tories of “paying back developers by selling out communities”.
Conservative proposals on planning, Reed said, “Takes away the rights of local people, of local communities, to object to developments… Power is shifted from elected councils and their planning committees to development boards.
“Under Boris Johnson’s leadership, donations to the Conservative Party from major developers have gone up 400 per cent. So the Conservatives are paying back developers by selling out communities.”
Labour has called a vote in parliament today which will seek to guarantee the rights of residents to object to development plans – what many Croydon residents might regard as a welcome improvement to the planning regime that they have had to endure under Reed’s pals in their borough over the past seven years.
Reed is the former leader of Lambeth Council, where its Homes for Lambeth policy includes the redevelopment into largely private homes of five estates of what is at present mainly social housing, including the Crown Hill Estate and architecturally important Cressingham Gardens. Residents on those estates have been refused a ballot on estate “regeneration” by Lambeth Council.
“I’m not attracted, at all, to the idea of politicians trying to stitch up the choices available to voters in their own localities,” Reed said, live on national television. Presumably with his fingers crossed behind his back, out of shot.
“What we need are better incentives to help developers go ahead and build the homes once they’ve got consent – not putting a gag around local people’s mouths so they can’t have a say about what happens on the street where they live.”
Now, the local authority in Reed’s parliamentary constituency is seeking to sell off Heath Lodge and a bit of park land (to make the proposition all the more attractive, and profitable, for any purchasing developer) with the implicit promise that the council, as local planning authority, will deliver on a platter planning permission for any scheme that is brought forward.
An advertisement placed by Croydon Council appeared in a little-read local free paper at the weekend. The council’s notorious neglect of its own council homes has also been extended to heritage buildings: Heath Lodge has not been properly maintained or repaired for more than a decade, and the cash-strapped council now claims it does not have the money to pay the estimated £150,000 bill to rectify its condition.
As well as the Lodge and its garden (which stands within the park), the council advert shows that they are also attaching 226 sqm of park land – almost the size of a standard tennis court – just to make the plot that much more attractive to profit-hungry developers.
The sale of the land, plus a Victorian park-keeper’s lodge in Grangewood Park, was determined by Newman and Butler’s council in 2019, but the decision was kept a secret from the local community and park friends group because, according to internal council documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, council officials feared a public outcry.
On that, at least, they were correct.
The council’s own website describes Grangewood Park as being “identified as demonstrably special and of particular significance to the local community”.
Grangewood Park, the council states, “is a quiet secluded oasis in the heart of a busy local area”.
Residents described the Labour-run council’s actions then as “sly”.
And they are not any more impressed with the actions of the Labour council now, either.
“In the midst of a pandemic, when public open spaces are seen as essential, Croydon Council is selling off bits of parks whilst building boxes as flats with no open spaces for residents,” said one today.
“I can’t believe this is a Labour Council.”
Others are eagerly awaiting a pronouncement from their local MP, supporting their opposition to the sale of public open space to profit-hungry developers.
Few, though, are holding their breath.
- Objections to the sale of Grangewood Park, from the public and MPs, need to be sent to Stephen Wingrave, the council’s head of assets and estates, via email to firstname.lastname@example.org by July 9.
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