This, in case you didn’t already know, is Love Parks Week.
In Croydon under Conservative Mayor Jason Perry, it seems, we don’t love our parks very much.
Croydon has more than 120 parks and open spaces within its boundaries, ranging from the 200-acre Selsdon Wood to many recreation grounds and sports fields scattered throughout the borough. Nearly half of these cherished open spaces are what are known as “locally listed” parks and gardens.
And only one Croydon park has been judged good enough to receive the internationally recognised accolade of Green Flag status.
A sorry little press release plopped into the inbox here at Inside Croydon Towers last week, straight from the propaganda bunker at Fisher’s Folly.
It was clear from the release’s tone that it was tinged with embarrassment. They wanted to celebrate the achievement of Wandle Park, the only Croydon park to be awarded a Green Flag, yet they realised that by announcing it, they would give the game away that another 119 other open spaces have been so badly neglected by the council that they don’t merit such an award.
“A full list of Green Flag award-winning parks and green spaces is available here,” the council press release stated, somewhat tersely, at the end, a communications equivalent of pushing towards us a document that they’d rather we didn’t see at all.
The word “Croydon” features just once in the 63-page Green Flag listings for 2023-2024.
Other London councils fare much, much better.
There are 15 parks in Sutton that have been granted Green Flag status, 18 in Lewisham, 34 in Hackney and 31 in Westminster. Hillingdon appears to have done particularly well: 70 of the west London borough’s parks have been awarded Green Flag status.
Compared to Croydon’s one.
There are other, important open spaces in and around Croydon that have been deemed good enough, by the nice people at Keep Britain Tidy who manage the process, to have been granted Green Flag status. But these are all looked after by organisations other than Croydon Council, where piss-poor Perry, the borough’s elected Mayor, put up Council Tax this April by 15per cent.
The charity, the London Wildlife Trust, has ensured that the Hutchinsons Bank nature reserve, near New Addington, has Green Flag status.
And the City of London’s Commons rangers team have, as Inside Croydon reported last month, maintained this important status at Coulsdon Common, Farthing Downs, Kenley Common, Riddlesdown and Spring Park.
The commons in and around Croydon and managed by the City comprise nearly 2,000 acres of outstanding natural environments which attract 2.5million visits annually.
But of more than 120 parks in its care, Croydon Council only got one up to the benchmark Green Flag standard.
Even in that instance, much of the credit seems to go to local residents who form the Friends of Wandle Park group. “The Green Flag is extremely important to the park. It shows the park is being looked after,” said Matthew Lucas, a member of Wandle Park Friends’ Group.
Inevitably, pompous Perry blathered on in the council press release, dripping with insincerity: “Bringing back our Green Flag status to Wandle Park shows our commitment to protecting and maintaining this fantastic park, so it can be enjoyed for generations to come.”
Note that: “commitment“.
“We are so proud of our parks teams and local volunteers who have helped to restore Wandle Park as one of our borough’s best green spaces.”
Perry was, typically, front and centre for a photo-op, as if he’d had anything to do with Wandle Park’s Green Flag status. Increasingly, people are asking: just what does the plastic guttering salesman do for his £82,000 annual salary from the council?
For more than a year, locals and the Friends of Wandle Park have been calling on the Mayor and the council to reopen the café in the park, and the associated public toilets. A new operator is needed. But typically, nothing has happened.
Three years of lockdowns and the council’s bankruptcy have taken their toll on the borough’s parks, where litter bins go unemptied for weeks on end, the once prize-winning flower beds have been abandoned, and where “No Mow May” has become “No Mow June, July and August”.
Inside Croydon has reported previously of the sorry dereliction, almost abandonment, of the borough’s once pristine green spaces – at Norwood Grove, at Heathfield House and at Haling Manor and Park Hill Recreation Ground.
For Perry and the faceless bureaucrats pushing pens and counting paperclips in Fisher’s Folly, Croydon’s public open spaces and the heritage buildings they often surround are not something to be “enjoyed for generations to come”, but mere assets on a spreadsheet, ready to be flogged off.
According to the council’s own press release, this year “a record 2,216 parks – the largest number since the scheme began 27 years ago – are proudly raising their flags”. But only one of those is under Croydon Council management.
For Wandle Park, a decade after it was significantly remodelled, the “award recognises the council’s commitment to keeping it looking its best… as a key green space for the benefit of the community, and local environment”. Note the use of that word again: “commitment”.
But in 2023, the well-earned Wandle Park Green Flag provides a clear warning signal for the borough’s other, seriously under-threat parks.
Read more: Locals concerned that Perry plans to sell listed Norwood Grove
Read more: Council’s once-prized listed building Heathfield House left to rot
Read more: Cressey College looks to be on the rocks over park and Ofsted
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