CROYDON IN CRISIS: The council last week rejected a healthy schools street scheme that might have displaced traffic to a road of million-pound houses where Jason Perry now lives. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
A school street scheme was rejected by Croydon Council last week because the road restrictions might have displaced traffic and caused congestion on another street in South Croydon.
The scheme proposed would have restricted access to Melville Avenue, where there are three schools. A road parallel to Melville, Castlemaine Avenue, just happens to be where Jason Perry, the borough’s elected Mayor, owns a six-bedroom detached house.
Croydon has been introducing school streets since 2017. There are 24 already in operation around the borough. According to the council’s own press office, “School Streets help to improve safety around schools and encourage more pupils to walk, cycle and scoot more often by limiting motor traffic on the surrounding roads during school drop-off and pick-up times.”
Perry’s council cabinet last week nodded through proposals for 10 school streets around the borough. But it rejected the proposal to make Melville Avenue a school street – despite the road’s three schools accounting for approximately 2,500 daily journeys in term time.
Melville Avenue was one of three proposed schemes that won’t now be trialled in the New Year. The council says that the decisions were made “based on survey responses, traffic displacement data and discussions with the schools”.
Melville Avenue is home to the Rutherford School, an independent special school, Old Palace’s private nursery and prep school for girls, and the Coombe Wood academy, which has more than 1,000 pupils.
Part-selective state school Coombe Wood was built on Green Belt playing fields, and opened to its first pupils in 2018. There have been issues with traffic during the school run on Melville Avenue and neighbouring streets ever since, the council having failed to implement any other traffic management scheme.
As with other healthy school streets schemes, the council’s proposals were to restrict access for non-residents to Melville Avenue in the mornings and at the end of the school day in term times, in the hope of encouraging more parents to get their children to school via public transport, walking or cycling. Using Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras, the council would levy hefty fines against any drivers who dared use the designated road without a permit.
The council’s healthy streets proposals for Melville Avenue drew an angry response from the chair of the Croham Valley Residents’ Association, Jeremy Gill, who wrote to the Conservative councillors for the South Croydon ward, lashing out at the “poor behaviour” and lack of driving skills of parents dropping off their children at the schools.
Until May this year, Jason Perry had been a councillor for South Croydon ward.
In his letter to the Tory councillors, Gill wrote, “I do not believe any of [the healthy school streets] objectives will be met in any significant way to overcome the inconvenience involved for many of the residents in Melville Avenue and the surrounding streets. This view is shared by many other residents.
“Melville Avenue, Castlemaine Avenue and Croham Park Avenue run in parallel between Croham Road and Coombe Road. They are linked via Ballater Road and Binfield Road. My view is that if the scheme goes ahead the vast majority of the traffic that currently enters Melville Avenue will go via Castlemaine Avenue and Croham Park Avenue instead.”
Gill has been a resident of Castlemaine Avenue for 25 years, according to the CVRA’s newsletters.
Land Registry data shows that houses on Castlemaine Avenue have sold in the past 12 months for £1.3million.
Neighbours and official sources have confirmed that Perry moved to Castlemaine Avenue in the last couple of months of 2021, not long before he was elected in May this year as Mayor of Croydon, with a £81,000 per year council-funded salary on top of any income from his family business, Carlton Building Plastics Ltd.
In his letter to Perry’s South Croydon councillor colleagues, Gill suggested that the cash-strapped council could raise money by fining parents who U-turn or reverse in the street, instead of introducing the healthy school street. “If you do not bring in this scheme then you can eliminate this poor parent driving by putting a traffic warden outside the school at 15:15. It will undoubtedly be revenue raising.”
Gill detailed his RA’s traffic count, conducted in October, which found that around 15per cent of journeys along Melville Avenue were school traffic. Gill’s figures claim that barely 10per cent of Coombe Wood School’s pupils arrive or leave by car.
If a school street were to be cut off from other commuters twice daily, Gill suggested, “Closing Melville Avenue to them will also force the overall majority into Castlemaine Avenue and Croham Park Avenue…
“I agree Melville will be safer. But Melville is already safe – whereas the Castlemaine/Coombe junction is not…
“If our survey is representative and our assumptions are correct, you are going to increase the traffic in Castlemaine by around 95per cent. This will increase queuing time… Therefore your overall intention of improving air quality will not happen…
“Whilst I applaud the aims of the scheme for our roads based on our experience and our survey numbers it will not work in its current state.”
The official report to last week’s cabinet meeting gives no specific reasons why the Melville Avenue scheme was ditched. Click here to view the council report in full. Gill and CVRA’s arguments must have been most persuasive, which is fortunate for Mayor Perry.
Last week’s cabinet report shows that Perry “delegated to the Deputy Mayor, Cllr Lynne Hale, the power to make the decisions” on this matter, a strong indicator of the Mayor’s attempts to be seen to distance himself from the ruling.
Whether the public will believe that Croydon’s new, thrusting, all-powerful Mayor really never had a single converation with any council officials or councillor colleagues about the Melville Avenue school street proposal remains to be seen.
It is rare for Croydon Council to issue a press release without part-time Perry’s gurning mug on it, or some bland comment from the Mayor. But that’s what happened last week when they announced the 10 healthy school streets which will be trialled from next month.
“Helping families make the school run safer and healthier is part of our wider plans to improve how we travel around Croydon, and we are trialling these schemes to see if they can achieve those goals,” was attributed to Hale.
“We have been listening to the community, collecting feedback, and working with headteachers, and we understand the congestion and parking issues local residents are dealing with. We look forward to seeing whether these trials will be able to alleviate those issues and make the streets safer for pupils.” But not anywhere where it might affect the residents of Castlemaine Avenue, clearly…
The 10 new healthy school streets which were agreed last week and will now go ahead are here:
The schemes will be subject to a trial for up to 18 months, from the day they become active. Public consultation and data monitoring on the schemes’ effects is expected to start when the trial launches, with a decision on their future taken before the end of that period.
The cost of implementing and running the trials is expected to be around £400,000, which will be met from grants from Transport for London. Any fines raised from drivers using the streets without a permit will go into the borough’s ring-fenced transport budget.
Residents living within any scheme area will be eligible to apply for an exemption permit, so they can have access at all times. In addition, the council will provide exemption permits to some road users who may need access – including transport for children with special needs. Other vehicles, such as emergency services or refuse vehicles, will be exempt automatically.
Inside Croydon invited Mayor Perry to comment on the traffic conditions in Castlemaine Avenue, and to demonstrate what declarations of interest he may have made. The part-time Mayor had not responded by the time of publication.
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