CROYDON COMMENTARY: A children’s play area, reclaimed from wasteland by volunteers over the last eight years, has had its important status erased with the stroke of a pen by a senior council official.
EMMA HOPE-FITCH and the other Friends of Love Lane Green received the devastating news this week
I knew it was not going to be great news the instant I got the text message from Simon Bashford, “community relations manager for Croydon Council”, informing me of the email I was about to receive.
It was the decision for the nomination of Love Lane Green to be included on Croydon’s list of Assets of Community Value.
Simon has been courteous and helpful, but he has also said things in conversation that have led me to request that he email me, as I would not wish to misrepresent his opinion with regards to what an ACV is for and how it is an important part of the Localism Act of 2011.
Croydon communities want to see assets included on the ACV list, assets such as South Norwood Library, The Glamorgan pub, The Albert Tavern and the Love Lane Community Garden.
It was not to be for Love Lane Community Garden, or South Norwood Library. However, two now-closed pubs did manage to fulfill the criteria. The Albert Tavern has since reopened, much to the joy of local pub-goers that fought for its survival.
It has been a while since the volunteers group, the Friends of Love Lane Green (referred to here as FoLLG) noticed that people were using an extended area of land, supposedly “off limits” to the public despite there being no signage apart from the rusty remains of a dilapidated fence. People had enjoyed access to the area for more than 40 years.
The land, which used to be playing fields, has planning status as Metropolitan Open Land, the equivalent of Green Belt, so there’s very little that any developer can be allowed to do with it. Young children play there in their free time, families hold picnics there, and the Friends have created a wildflower meadow there, too.
The Friends group believed, reasonably, that this patch of land could be nominated to Croydon Council for listing as an Asset of Community Value.
If the application was successful, FoLLG would have a five-year period to organise themselves and raise funds, given notice of plans to sell the land, and have a right to first refusal.
It would also mean the land owners would need to consult with the group if they have any development plans.
Any group can nominate a building or patch of land for ACV status, using the council’s online guidance and forms. Unfortunately, the guidance does not tally with the criteria that Croydon Council’s community relations department use in its decision-making. You can find the guidance and list of assets here: Assets of community value community right to bid.
The FoLLG managed to get the nominated area successfully listed by Croydon Council in 2022, together with the Love Lane Garden and children’s playground that volunteers had worked so hard to create over several years. The land owners of this particular patch of land, brother and sister Anthony and Hilda Morris, appealed, and they were successful.
Taking on board the advice from the appeal report, the Friends used this to strengthen their claim, and nominated an amended and much smaller area. It was at this point that the council’s Simon Bashford called.
He felt the FoLLG was still asking for too much space, and went further to deter us from bothering at all. ACVs, according to the council official, “Really aren’t worth the paper they are written on.” It all just takes a lot of work, too much work, was the gist from the council worker.
FoLLG was not going to be deterred and we asked for a meeting with Simon to explain our plans for the future and to better understand the process.
Unfortunately, Simon declined, apparently happy with the work his department had done and the visits carried out without a guided tour of all that has been achieved by volunteers. The council worker had preferred to visit during weekday working hours, when children are at school and the volunteer gardeners are at work and, accordingly, the space is least busy.
Still undeterred, the FoLLG requested a virtual meeting with the council worker. We never got a response to that request.
Finally, after jumping through many council hoops and much time wasted talking to Simon Bashford, the FoLLG received another decision notice, this one finalised by Gavin Handford, the council’s “director of policy, programmes and performance”. According to Gavin, Love Lane Green will not be listed because he doesn’t think access is likely to be achieved ever again. Not that that has any relevance under the Localism Act.
The council director’s decision acknowledges that the site fulfils the council’s criteria. So why isn’t it going to be listed?
Because after 40 or more years of public access, the owners arranged for an agent to take a photo of a private property sign, and that somehow trumps current use, future use and what the Localism Act set out to achieve. The Friends’ group’s access to the land does not affect the rights of the Morrises or any intention they may have to submit a planning application.
As I type this, there are no signs up, but whether they ever actually existed is besides the point.
Between 2017 and 2019, two closed, locked and completely inaccessible pubs have been listed as ACVs by Croydon Council. Which strongly suggests to FoLLG that you really do not need to have access to make it onto Croydon’s ACV list. You just need to provide a future use. That appears to have escaped the council director handing down his somewhat subjective decision.
The Localism Act and the sections regarding Assets of Community Value were meant to “empower” communities. But it can only do that if the procedures in place are consistently applied for each nomination.
In the past, Love Lane Green was a playing field. In the future this pocket of Metropolitan Open Land could again become a place for outdoor recreation, one that can be maintained by the community, with the continued support from Croydon Council, for the health and wellbeing of the surrounding community.
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Disgusted by Council lack of response. Vote Green!
The local residents should club together and buy the land. They could then set up a trust to run it, handing it over to the council as public open space is no guarantee it will remain public open space.
That’s the point of ACV, Thomas.
It obliges the landowners to sell to the community, who have five years to raise the necessary funds.
Which is why the council’s refusal to grant ACV status to the land is sheer numbskullery. Or worse.