Three weeks ago I was consulted by the Croydon Trades Union Council (CTUC) about the outline of a proposal to Green Croydon sent to it by Labour Councillor Jamie Audsley (Bensham Ward). This was done because I had chaired the CTUC’s working party on the local economy in 2014, which submitted a detailed report to the Council which included support for the creation of green jobs.
Audsley has now put together an alliance of other Labour Councillors Nina Degrads – Upper Norwood, Muhammad Ali – Broad Green, Janet Campbell – West Thornton, and Stephen Mann – Upper Norwood) along with Croydon Living Streets, Croydon XR, Croydon BME Forum, Crystal Palace Transition Town, Asian Resource Centre of Croydon, Mums for Lungs, Croydon Cycling Campaign, Peddle My Wheels, Thornton Heath Community Action Team, Croydon Covid-19 Mutual Aid, Sustainable Thornton Heath and Action Vision Zero.
In their joint letter they state:
‘This crisis has laid bare the fundamental connection between healthy, flourishing and productive communities and a thriving environment. Restoring nature and robust environmental protection will help build resilience and reduce the risk of future global health and economic shocks. Many have also found personal resilience through engagement with nature and experienced what a greener Croydon could be like. We’ve realised the importance of access to green space for our health, of safe and pleasant walking routes and perhaps even how cycling can reveal a host of new green spaces such as the Wandle Way or Whitehorse Meadow.’
The letter can be seen at:
The Initiative and the Climate Change Commission
I advised the CTUC to try and actively engage with the initiative, but it would need to be linked in with a role on the Climate Change Commission, on which there need to be more trade unionists. Among the many initiatives the trade unions and Croydon Assembly in Croydon took from 2014 was to support action on green issues.
CTUC opposed the Brick by Brick plan to build on the green space next to Ruskin House on the corner of Edridge Road. In line with this and other policies of the CTUC/Croydon Assembly in its work on the Croydon Local Plan I stressed the importance of such green spaces are important amenities which need to be protected from development The Local Plan should have a central theme of how neighbourhood housing and green space development and the expansion of housing and infrastructure can be implemented within the wider context of how they contribute to reducing climate change.
Issues That Need To Be Thought About
I wrote to Audsley commending him on the initiative and discussing a number of issues it would be worth him giving further thought to.
Borough of Culture 2023
I sent him my discussion paper on the Borough of Culture programming that environmental history of Croydon should be a theme.
Climate Change Commission
At that stage the plan seemed to be a separate initiative to the work of the Climate Change Commission which could well take on board much of the proposals or should at least contribute into it. The Audsley plan has now been sent to the Commission Chair. It will be interesting to see whether this is on agenda of the next virtual meeting being organised for July.
I suggested to him that the representation of trade unions on the Commission is very thin, and needs to be beefed up.
Brick by Brick Building On Green Spaces
I argued that if his plan is adopted by the Council there will be many people who will be very cynical about it, mainly because under Paul Scott Brick by Brick has or proposes to build on green spaces, like the one next to Ruskin House which the TUC opposed, and at Covington Way in Norbury Park Ward.
The Council will only be treated non-cynically if Tony Newman replaces Paul Scott by a member with genuine green credentials who will not sacrifice the environmental and well-being aspects of the Local Plan in order to drive the increase in the number of houses. If there is growing concern about Paul Scott’s grip and influence within the Labour Group then it is time for joint action of pressure on the Leader.
The Directly Elected Mayor Referendum
I suggested that the directly elected Mayor referendum threat is very much down to the reaction to Paul Scott’s approach on planning, forgetting that a directly elected Mayor is one unaccountable individual (see the row in Middlesbrough).
It appears that Labour is taking a very complacent attitude to the threat of a referendum. The ballot could well be won on a low poll, with large numbers of Labour voters staying away, because they do not see the relevance to them as they try to recover from the negative economic and social effects of the COVID crisis. If there is a directly elected Mayor then Councillors will be marginalised and less influential than they are under the current Executive Leader/Cabinet model.
Alongside a change in Cabinet member there will need to be a policy that makes it clear that Labour will no longer build on green spaces whether in the street, on estates, or on school sites (apart from any need for educational buildings in respect of the latter).
One of the reasons that there is so much blind adherence to support new housing schemes by Labour Councillors is their delusion that it is meeting local housing needs.
I pointed out to Jamie Audsley that the numerous apartment blocks being built are not solving the housing crisis. They are simply bringing more people into the Borough leaving large numbers especially in the North, New Addington and in multi-occupation across the Borough in inappropriate housing for their needs. One of the lessons that appears to be emerging from the COVID crisis is that the more dense the population the more likely there is to be infection, as the figures for the North and Central wards show in comparison with most of the southern ones. The lack of adequate community green space in many blocks will not have made life easy for many people who do not have gardens.
The Green Recovery Plan will need to incorporate a housing strategy that moves away from tower blocks to housing with gardens, or smaller blocks with proper communal green space.
London Rd Study
I pointed out that the plan did not appear to take into account the London Rd study investigating environmental improvements. The risk now with the TfL budget problems is whether it will withdraw the funding for implementing the recommendations that emerge, which are very much in line with some of your proposals.
School Green Spaces
Another element for the plan could be a review of how schools with green spaces are/are not maximising the environmental and educational benefits so that plans to help them can be drawn up.
The plan supports the 20 miles per hour Zones. I commented that these are the subject of much cynicism because they are not enforceable. They have been particularly broken during lockdown given fewer cars on the road. Physical measures to slow cars down (like chicanes and narrowing street entrances) are needed.
The plan emphasises encouraging cycling. I suggested that it ignores the dangers cyclists cause to pedestrians, vehicle drivers and themselves through so many recklessly riding through red traffic lights, weaving in and out of traffic, and riding on pavements. If there is to be a significant increase there needs to be a compulsory training and licensing scheme, with each cycle having its own number plate.
As there are very hilly parts of Croydon like Norbury and Purley it is unrealistic to expect a large increase in cycling, apart from motor bikes. These areas require more single decker bus routes.
Retail Distribution Vehicles
There are issues that need to be addressed in the development of the plan. One of the lasting effects of the lockdown is likely to be the drop in people buying in shops and ordering on line instead, which simply increases the number of delivery vehicles on the roads, including the need to be parked where their drivers live in the residential streets. If Amazon proceeds with its proposed distribution depot on Purley Way, then the traffic problems there will be considerably aggravated.
Another issue is the need for the Council to have a new planning strategy for the Town Centre, to which Audsley’s Plan can play a useful role. Meanwhile there needs to be behind the scenes discussion in the Labour Group about what should happen to the Whitgift site. Although I was the main objector to the original scheme at the CPO inquiry, I have made constructive suggestions since, including:
(a) not building the tower blocks of apartments by spreading the flats across the top of the new building.
(b) communal green space and gardens on the top.
(c) housing the South London University campus.
I pointed out that the main problem we have faced in Norbury about getting more trees planted along London Rd is the objection of TfL because of the utilities pipes and wires underneath. We still have not got any detailed sensible discussion about where planters could go, which also raises the problem of how they are to be kept watered.
Clear Air and Electric Vehicles
I drew attention to the problems with increases in electric vehicles. By switching people will continue to have a car as an essential without the guilt of contributing to air pollution in the streets. Lower income vehicle owners who cannot afford the new cars will be further finally penalised, or be forced to stop driving and have to use public transport. Pre-COVID this meant at peak time very crowded trains and buses. Post-COVID if there are future pandemics these people will be further severely disadvantaged.
The Tram System
The plan supports the idea of a train system along London Road. The Local Plan already envisages the extension of the tram system to Brixton. I pointed out that a number of Norbury residents have expressed doubts about whether the tram system can be built long London Rd with major widening (including demolition of Housing and shops), if the trams are to be accommodated along with the vehicle traffic which includes those delivering goods to shops, other businesses and residents.