The campaign by the Friends of Grangewood Park to save a Victorian park keeper’s lodge from being sold by the cash-strapped council has attracted the support of the local MP.
But even Steve Reed OBE doesn’t get replies to his letters to Croydon Council.
Reed, MP for Croydon North/Lambeth South (delete to taste), wrote to a council cabinet member on December 16 seeking greater support for proper maintenance of the long-neglected park and calling for consultation with residents over the use of Heath Lodge.
“A number of residents have expressed concerns to me about the council’s management of Grangewood Park over many years,” Reed said in his letter. “Residents are concerned about the sale of Heath Lodge as well as the state of the playground, football pitch and basketball courts.”
Yesterday, Reed tweeted that he was “chasing for a full reply”, nearly three months later.
The matter is now of great urgency, with the auction due to take place tomorrow and with the Friends group maintaining that the council is about to act unlawfully because there are historic covenants attached to the park which forbid any part of it being sold off.
Grangewood Park, which lies between Thornton Heath and Beaulah Hill, was once a grand private estate and farm, set in the Great North Wood, which was bought by the then Corporation of Croydon in 1900.
Heath Lodge, together with a chunk of the public park to make the property more attractive to potential developers, is due to be auctioned by Savill’s with a guide price of just £310,000 – or less than the cost of a one-bed flat.
Locals say that they have been ignored over the “asset disposal”, without any consultation from Croydon Council. The Friends group believes that given the opportunity, and some extra time, they might form a Trust which could utilise the building for a range of community activities.
A protest staged on Saturday attracted more than 50 people, including a handful of politicians. But not a single Labour councillor showed up. Nor did Labour’s mayoral election candidate, Val Shawcross.
Locals suspect that there is more to the matter than simply paying off the mountain of debts that the council, under the control of Reed’s Labour mates, have accumulated.
In January 2020 – before covid and the council’s first bankruptcy – the Lodge was withdrawn from sale because of stiff public opposition.
That was the second time that council officials had tried to off-load the increasingly derelict public building.
Internal council correspondence, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, showed that the Thornton Heath ward councillors – Reed’s Labour Party colleagues Callton Young, Karen Jewitt and Pat Clouder – had agreed to the sale.
Young is the current cabinet member with responsibility for the council’s finances, who could probably get the auction postponed with a single phone call if he wanted.
In January, when another council-owned building, in Ashburton Park, was due to be put up for auction, the sale was postponed after intervention by Shawcross, so that the Oasis education charity could have more time to raise money to acquire the property and convert it into a youth centre.
That’s very similar to what the Friends of Grangewood Park want to do.
But they claim they are being denied the opportunity by Croydon Council.
In October last year, a council report on the sale of Heath Lodge stated, “Alternative uses have been considered by the council but these have proved not to be financially viable.
“Although local community groups have previously expressed an interest in retaining the asset for community use, these discussions have not progressed and the property has continued to deteriorate and attract antisocial behaviour.”
The Friends group say that there have been no real discussions in the past two years over the future of Heath Lodge.
The failure of the council to reply to MP Reed’s December letter in support of the Friends group seems to support that position.
Reed wrote to cabinet member Muhammad Ali “to request that the council explores setting up a community trust for Grangewood Park so that residents can have a direct say over the running of their local park”.
Reed accused the council of neglecting the Lodge building for eight years and of denying the nearby playground of investment that had been promised in 2019, but for which “funding never appeared”.
Some of the equipment in the playground is more than 40 years old – children that used it when it was new will soon be eligible for their Freedom Passes.
“I understand the council is under enormous financial pressure,” Reed wrote. “The Conservative government has cut Croydon Council’s funding by over 80per cent, equivalent to a cut of £94million a year… However, we can’t allow the Conservatives to make victims of our residents.
“Instead, we need to explore different ways of running local services that tap into the insight, creativity and resources of our community.
“A community trust for Grangewood Park could learn from the successful examples in Crystal Palace Park and Streatham Common where a higher level of resident control has brought additional funding and ideas to improve those parks. I would like to see the same creative approach applied to Grangewood Park.
“I look forward to hearing how you will take this idea forward and give Grangewood Park the brighter future it deserves.”
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