Our environment correspondent, PAUL LUSHION, on the council’s latest blatant attempt to off-load its public responsibilities
The council has what it calls its “Parks and Green Spaces Renewal Strategy 2022-2025”, which they say outlines “plans to support the borough’s cherished 127 parks and green spaces, and align the parks service with long-term sustainability goals”.
It does, of course, nothing of the sort.
The strategy is believed to be the third such paper the council has produced in just seven years as it casts around ever more desperately for ways of cutting costs. The paper was announced around the same time that Croydon Council flogged off a chunk of Grangewood Park, together with a Victorian park keeper’s cottage, to a property developer. The parks plan has since been rubber-stamped by the Labour-run council’s cabinet.
According to the cash-strapped council, their latest lip-service document “will be underpinned by a delivery plan to be published later this year”.
As with the much-criticised review of the Local Plan, policy work is being pushed through ahead of the local elections, some of which could well tie the hands of the in-coming Mayor.
The repeated and repeating failures of the council, after eight years of a Labour administration, are increasingly being highlighted by Val Shawcross, the party’s candidate for Mayor on May 5.
Shawcross neatly summarised the council’s shortcomings on planning and in its inability to protect the borough’s green spaces in a tweet this morning regarding a development application which seeks to destroy part of the ancient Great North Wood close to the candidate’s home in Upper Norwood.
“As Mayor, I will strengthen Croydon’s protection for green spaces including open woodland,” Shawcross wrote, presumably in the knowledge that with the council’s green spaces strategy and Local Plan, such a promise is becoming all the more difficult to deliver.
Yet only this week, in Waddon, developers carved out a chunk of an open space next to Duppas Hill Park, felling around a dozen mature trees, to the dismay of residents and (Labour) ward councillors.
There is planning permission to create an access road for a housing development on the Heath Clark playing fields, though not, it is understood, any permission to destroy the trees along its boundary with the public park. The council’s planning enforcement officials, of course, were nowhere to be seen to prevent this wanton destruction and eco-vandalism.
So, it would be reasonable to assume, that for all the fine words in the council’s new parks strategy, it will end up delivering precisely… nuffink.
In fact, it seems that the council’s overwhelming objective is to actually deliver less than nothing.
In common with Croydon’s previous parks and green spaces strategies, there’s no money to back up any suggestions or plans for improvements and enhancements, not that this document contains any of these.
Indeed, there’s not even any real suggestion that the council might become more pro-active in its approach to raising grant funding from other bodies, another area of woeful non-achievement by the current council.
Indeed, the nub of this latest strategy appears to be the council’s desire to outsource its responsibilities for the maintenance and upkeep of Croydon’s open spaces to volunteers and friends’ groups.
“The council is pledging that all our green and blue spaces are clean and safe for everyone to enjoy, and will achieve this by working with our partners and the community,” are the weasel words used to present this latest downgrading of what was once a proud parks department.
They refer to one of their futile survey exercises, where by defining the options to fit a particular agenda, the council got exactly the responses they required to justify their scheme. After all, who’d have guessed that, if you asked the Croydon public if they “valued” their local parks in a pandemic, 17 out of every 20 would respond “Yes!” (although it does raise questions about what the other 14per cent of responders were thinking)?
The parks survey once again showed how little real engagement the council, despite spending millions on its digital “strategy”, really has with the residents of the borough. Barely 0.5per cent of the Croydon public – 2,300 people – took part in last year’s survey. So can the results from such an exercise really be relied upon?
The council reckons that of the people who did bother to respond to its survey, 85per cent said that they are interested in “getting involved to support their local park”, whatever that is supposed to mean.
The council’s approach to the borough’s precious green spaces mirrors the way in which it is reducing other cherished public services, such as its libraries.
For the council staff in Fisher’s Folly looking to off-load more costs, and fellow workers, they have taken it to mean the further outsourcing of the parks maintenance tasks to well-intentioned volunteers. How that plays out with the likes of, say, the Friends of Grangewood Park, after the recent sale of the park lodge and grounds there, only time will tell. Goodwill in Thornton Heath, at least, is at a pretty low ebb.
“A crucial part of the council’s plans for its parks includes tapping into that interest,” they say, “by further growing and supporting its dedicated volunteer network – which includes over 650 litter-picking Street Champions…”, meaning Council Tax-payers who go out and clean their streets and parks because the hired contractors are doing such a rubbish job.
“Croydon also currently has 45 active ‘Friends of Parks’ groups, which help to care for, promote, and maintain local parks, green and blue spaces.”
Again, more people doing much of the council’s work that they have already paid for in their Council Tax, the sad consequence for a borough where millions have been squandered on vanity projects and the hubris of senior directors of the council.
- To read the council’s ideas-lite “strategy” (it is only 28 pages for the 127 parks and green spaces), click here
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