Locals petition Perry over neglect of South Norwood reserve

From sewage farm to sanctuary: South Norwood Country Park is an example of how a large area in the middle of a built-up borough can be reclaimed. Now the cash-strapped council’s neglect is putting all that at risk

The dereliction and decline of another of Croydon’s cherished public open spaces has prompted residents to petition Jason Perry, the Mayor of Croydon, to re-open the visitor centre in South Norwood Country Park.

More than one thousand people have already signed the petition; at 2,000 signatures, the petition can be presented at a Town Hall meeting.

According to Croydon Council’s own website, the visitor centre is “closed for refurbishment”. But park users have been waiting for three years to hear any news from the council when that promised refurbishment might happen.

The South Norwood Country Park visitor centre has been closed since it was damaged by a fire in the spring of 2020. The cash-strapped council has since then neglected to conduct the repairs necessary for the centre to re-open.

Fire damage: the South Norwood Country Park visitor centre has been closed since 2020

“Despite persistent engagement by the local community, Croydon Council have not begun work to restore the centre, set out a plan for doing so, or explained why nothing has happened in three years since the fire,” says the Friends of South Norwood Country Park, whose committee raised the petition.

The 125 acres of South Norwood Country Park, offering a wide range of habitat, is regarded by bird watchers as the best site in the whole of Croydon, with more than 100 bird species recorded there most years.

The site was a sewage farm from the middle of the 19th century until 1966. It was declared Metropolitan Open Land in 1982, with the country park opened in 1989 after the creation of a pond and wet meadow.

“South Norwood Country Park is an important designated local nature reserve and provides easy access to a variety of natural habitats that would otherwise be largely inaccessible for many residents in the area,” says the petition calling for the re-opening of the visitor centre.

The centre provided a place for school children to experience wildlife up close, an office for a park warden and served as a base for volunteers. The visitor centre provided the only toilets in the park. Without the toilet block, the park is now inaccessible for many and unsuitable for large groups of volunteers.

“Since the visitor centre closed, other facilities in the park have begun to decline – the environment garden behind the centre is overgrown and its pond is empty,” say the petitioners.

“Paths throughout the park have deteriorated, and the viewing platforms at the lake have become increasingly dangerous to use.

“The longer the centre remains closed, the more damage will be done and the more it will cost to repair.”

The neglect of South Norwood Country Park mirrors the treatment, and decline, seen by visitors and friends groups in other parts of the borough – from Heathfield House in the south of the borough, to the town centre’s Park Hill Recreation Ground, to the White House in Norwood Grove at the northernmost extremity of the borough.

With the council’s once proud and prized parks department all but dismantled and abandoned, Croydon’s open spaces are visible examples of what a bankrupt borough looks like after more than a decade of Tory austerity.

In the case of South Norwood Country Park, the neglect of the visitors’ centre is not only likely to cost the tax-payer more to repair the longer it is left, but its continuing closure is actively preventing dedicated volunteers from holding work days in the park to help maintain and improve it.

Preserving and maintaining Croydon’s parks and public open spaces was a key election pledge 12 months ago from Tory Jason Perry when he was seeking election as Croydon’s Mayor.

“The visitor centre is the first of many areas of South Norwood Country Park and its management that require commitment and leadership from the council,” the FoSNCP say.

“An area the size of South Norwood Country Park requires a full-time warden with experience in conservation and a fully operational visitor centre.

“Reopening the visitor centre is an important first step that would not only restore the facilities it provides but act as a focal point for future work in the park and a clear sign of the council’s commitment to the people of South Norwood.”

The petition calls on Mayor Perry to commit to reopening the visitor centre and to set out a timeline for doing so while consulting the local community about the centre’s future.

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This entry was posted in Community associations, Croydon Council, Croydon parks, Environment, Friends of South Norwood Country Park, Schools, South Norwood, Wildlife, Woodside and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Locals petition Perry over neglect of South Norwood reserve

  1. Peter Underwood says:

    I will declare a personal and professional interest in this because I used to work at the visitor centre as Head Warden of the Country Park and the charity I now work for is keen to see the centre brought back into use as well.

    I think that having a functioning visitor centre would be a great benefit to the park and local residents. When the centre was open it not only provided toilet facilities for visitors during weekdays, it also provided a base for school visits and volunteer activity to look after the park. There is also potential to use it for wider educational and community activities that would draw in people from across this area of London.

    I encourage everyone to sign the petition and contact your local politicians to ask them to support it too.

  2. Andrew Pelling says:

    Bernard Weatherill exhibited his sense of humour opening the country park in 1989 riding a somewhat unco-operative horse.

    This country park was a Conservative party initiative so Conservatives now ought to warm towards the idea of restoring facilities there.

    Its good that the petition is promoted here on a neutral site. Labour through the Croydon Central MP has promoted the petition endangering the debate about renewal becoming ensnared in the partisan debate about how the council has little money for parks post bankruptcy.

    The council should seek funding from specific government grants and private charities.

  3. Lewis White says:

    If the council can’t afford to manage it, they should ask the RSPB to take it over free of charge, on a long lease, or freehold basis.

    It would then get managed properly.

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