DID WE HAVE NEWS FOR YOU: In the second part of our review of the year, loyal readers step up to report raptor sightings, there’s the retirement of a much-admired Palace manager, worrying election results for Labour and the council is forced into a U-turn over play streets
The rich and diverse nature of the coverage of this website, and the interests of our readers, was reflected in the most-read article of April, which was brought to us by one of our loyal readers, Ian Jones.
Ian just happens to be an Eagles fan and a fan of eagles, so it was entirely apposite that the ornithologist wearing a Palace scarf should be the first to register a confirmed sighting of the white-tailed eagle at the nearby Beddington Farmlands wildlife reserve.
He told Inside Croydon, “I was lucky enough to have a few days off work, so any spare time I have, I usually head for Beddington Farmlands. April is a good time of year as the spring migrants begin to arrive, swallows, sand martin chiffchaff and willow warbler among them.
“It wasn’t long before I looked straight up and immediately saw a huge bird of prey. I knew instantly it wasn’t the usual buzzard that had caused the mayhem and said to Zach, ‘white-tailed eagle!’
“We started to take a few photos of this huge bird. As I carried on watching the eagle, Zach was frantically on his phone ringing a close friend to tell him the white-tailed eagle was heading his way and to put the news on our birdwatchers’ WhatsApp group.
“As there had been a lot of reports of white-tailed eagles around the country, I had wondered how long it would be before we get one at Beddington. I didn’t think it would be me that found it a few days later!
“It was a very exciting moment, one I will not forget. Being a Crystal Palace fan, it wasn’t long before the other members on our WhatsApp group were saying it was apt that an Eagle found the eagle.”
The birds of prey are part of a reintroduction programme based on the Isle of Wight. The Beddington sighting came just four months after electronic tracking devices showed another white-tailed eagle flying over Coulsdon.
White-tailed eagles are the largest bird of prey native to the British Isles, and a captive eagle has in the past been used as a mascot by Crystal Palace FC ahead of their games at Selhurst Park.
Also in April, we reported how Progress MP Steve Reed OBE had got himself involved in a planning dispute in his Croydon North constituency, with an intervention that was critical of the Labour-run council’s planning department.
The council’s developer-friendly planning department had granted a developer permission to demolish a 1920s-built chalet bungalow on Downsview Road, to be replaced with a three-storey block of nine flats, despite a restrictive legal covenant on the property.
It would not be the last piece of criticism of Croydon’s planners we would report in 2021…
And our coverage of the appalling housing conditions endured by too many in Croydon continued with an exclusive Under The Flyover podcast with Shantal Moses, who spoke of her “living nightmare” in the temporary accommodation provided by Croydon Council and profit-hungry hotel and B&B operators in the borough.
Listen to the interview here:
May saw the post-lockdown staging of the delayed 2020 London elections, in which Labour’s Sadiq Khan was returned for a second term as London Mayor, in large measure because the London-hating Conservatives considered that Shaun Bailey was in some way a suitable candidate.
The Green Party’s Sian Berry was third in the mayoral election, ahead of the LibDems’ late replacement candidate, Luisa Porritt. The LibDems lost their £10,000 election deposit, too, as Porritt garnered less than 5 per cent of the vote.
The Croydon and Sutton super-constituency got only its third Assembly Member in 21 years, as Neil “Father Jack” Garratt, the Tory councillor from Sutton who appears to think it is acceptable to be abusive to residents, replaced Steve O’Connell, who was retiring from public office (not that anyone would notice the difference).
The London Assembly result contained some metrics which ought to worry Labour in Croydon.
Garratt polled 75,246 votes – 18,271 more than Labour candidate Patsy Cummings, a margin of victory nearly 8,000 more than in 2016.
Some in the party sought to blame the covid interruption for their own shortcomings, after Cummings proved herself to be a lacklustre candidate. Her cause was not helped by polling day coming within weeks of the Regina Road scandal breaking in the South Norwood ward she was supposed to represent on Croydon Council – hardly a ringing endorsement of her capabilities as a people’s representative.
By the end of this year, Cummings had been deselected as a council candidate by Labour Party members in South Norwood ward.
Polling day in May also saw five council by-elections staged in Croydon, two in safe Tory wards and three in Labour-held wards.
The Woodside and New Addington North by-elections were necessary after the resignations as councillors of Tony Newman, the discredited former council leader, and Simon Hall, the cabinet member for finances, who between them had crashed the council’s finances and both been suspended by the Labour Party.
And while the 41-29 status quo remained overall on the council after the by-election count, the swings against Labour even in staunch red-supporting parts of the borough suggests a potential collapse come the May 2022 Town Hall elections. The public backlash against the failed Labour administration could yet be vicious.
As we reported following the declarations, similar voting if repeated in 2022 “would give the Conservatives the kind of majority at the Town Hall that hasn’t been seen in Croydon for 35 years”.
Our report said, “New Addington North saw the biggest swing from Labour to Conservatives – 15.75 per cent compared to 2018’s local election result…
“A 15.75 per cent swing to the Tories, if repeated boroughwide in May 2022, would see them gain 15 seats from Labour and have a crushing majority in the Town Hall chamber of 44 to 26. That would be the largest majority of any party in Croydon Council since 1986, at the peak of Thatcherism.
“Wards that would turn blue with that kind of swing could include Addiscombe East, Addiscombe West, New Addington South, Waddon, Fairfield, Norbury Park and perhaps even one seat in Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood.”
In other news, we also reported on the retirement, after four years of steady Premier League consolidation, of Palace’s veteran manager Roy Hodgson, marking the end of a 46-year career in football.
The best-read article of June was another piece by a loyal reader, who took the opportunity of our “Croydon Commentary” platform to air their concerns and complaints, as the council tried to slap a charge of nearly £240 (including VAT) on community volunteers for the privilege of organising play groups for the kids in their neighbourhoods.
And, in the best traditions of campaigning journalism, it was not long after publication of Emma Hope-Fitch’s entirely reasonable argument against the cash-strapped council raising extra charges on the organisers of the borough’s Play Streets that the council backed down from its untenable position.
On June 24, Emma informed her fellow Inside Croydon readers: “Before the pandemic locked us all down, there were around 10 play streets around the borough. But all that good work, those years of volunteer effort, helping to bring our community together, risks unravelling now, after Croydon Council decided to charge Play Street organisers £195 every time the volunteers want to enjoy the ‘privilege’ of them and their neighbours and their children staging a play street…
“We all know the council is broke and are desperately trying to balance the books. We know that all services have to be paid for.
“But £195 per month (plus VAT!) for a two-hour closure of a street, where volunteers drag out the signs from their own storage seems… well… outrageous.”
And another parent-volunteer was quoted as saying, “For Croydon Council to make it even harder for community volunteers to set up play streets, just as councils and charities across the UK launch the ‘Summer of Play’ initiative, feels beyond regressive.”
Not for the first time, it seemed, some over-enthusiastic but under-qualified council official had started issuing the charge notices without first bothering to check with the borough’s political leadership.
In the same spirit of campaigning journalism, June saw this website flag up the real risk of the Tory government flogging off your private medical records, a move described by many NHS professionals as “data grab by stealth, under the cover of a pandemic”.
And while the government delayed and postponed its move, the threat of using your personal medical data for commercial gain remains today, with many of the borough’s GP practices continuing to carry warnings for their patients in their waiting rooms and on their websites.
- Croydon in 2021: Lockdowns, let-downs and meltdowns – Croydon housing causes a national scandal
- Croydon 2021: Macarnage, Fairfield fiasco and dropped Bricks – planning issues and more shocking revelations over council’s out-of-control spending
- Croydon 2021: Voter apathy, petrol queues and dodgy deals
- Here was the news: Inside Croydon’s most-read articles of 2021
- Inside Croydon’s Person of the Year 2021: Fransoy Hewitt
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