A positive plan for Croydon’s future

Less than 6 weeks before the borough Council elections which will determine who runs Croydon for the next 4 years, the Conservatives on Friday laid out their challenge to the Labour party which currently runs Croydon – a plan for a dynamic, forward-looking and clean town, delivered by a Council which is well-run and above all which listens to residents.

Determined to share their vision with as many people as possible, copies of the manifesto will reach many residents over the weekend. However, for those who don’t receive it, Croydon News has picked out some of the highlights. 

Delivering Westfield

It is clear from the manifesto that the Conservatives are great believers in the Westfield/Hammerson redevelopment of Croydon town centre. It was the Conservatives who brokered the proposed deal, when they ran the Council before 2014, and the development was awarded planning permission by the then Conservative Council in 2013. Since Labour took control in May 2014, there has been barely any progress. Labour’s indecision has led to several delays as the developers have been forced back to the drawing board, and although planning permission was granted again before Christmas it took the intervention of the Conservative Minister for London to secure that.

With other major developments in the town centre also delayed – including Taberner House and Fairfield Halls – there is a real question mark over Labour’s ability to deliver Croydon’s redevelopment. The Conservatives believe they are much better placed to make these developments happen.

Listening to residents

One theme that runs throughout the manifesto is the Conservatives’ belief that Croydon’s residents should have a much stronger voice in how the Council is run. This is particularly the case with planning, where currently many controversial developments are given planning permission despite overwhelming opposition from local residents.

The Conservatives will address this by inviting Residents’ Associations to advise the planning committee, and by offering the position of Vice-Chair of the planning committee to the largest opposition party. It will put an emergency stop on any development by the Council’s own housing developer Brick By Brick until all schemes have been thoroughly reviewed. Brick By Brick is responsible for many of the most unpopular planning applications, and a Conservative Council will commit to not allowing development of any of the Council’s parks or green spaces – 31 of which have been left without statutory protection in Labour’s local plan.

Cleaning up Croydon

In 2014, Labour were very vocal that they would end fly-tipping in Croydon. In the 4 years of Labour control the problem has got worse and worse – with a 65% increase in the number of reported fly-tips than since 2014, compared with an average 12% increase in the rest of London. The Conservatives have avoided the hubristic promise of ending fly-tipping, but they have come up with a number of specific policies aimed at cleaning up Croydon’s streets.

First, a Conservative Council will be much more proactive than the current Labour Council, investing in motorised ‘fly-tip busters’ which will “tour the borough looking for fly tips, excess litter, graffiti, badly maintained verges and all the other annoyances which infuriate residents”, according to the manifesto. Secondly, a Conservative Council will introduce 3 free collections of bulky waste for each household each year, removing the incentive to fly-tip. Thirdly, recognising that residents are often forced to store waste far longer than necessary if the Council’s refuse contractors fail to collect their bins, the Conservatives will give residents a rebate of £10 anytime their refuse is not collected – paid for by the contractors.

A wide-ranging vision

It is difficult to cover every policy from a 12 page document in a single article, but the Conservative manifesto offers positive ideas about every aspect of Croydon. From giving carer’s a discount on their Council Tax to celebrating the key festivals of all the different religions practised in the town, and from letting people make voluntary additional contributions to Council Tax to go toward tackling homelessness to supporting the traders of Boxpark and Surrey Street market to develop and grow, it is clear that an enormous amount of thought has gone in to the Conservative vision.

The question is whether they get to put it into practice in May, or whether Croydon’s residents will choose to give Labour another chance to deliver the things it has failed to do since 2014.

Labour Councillors warned about failing Child Services 3 times before Ofsted inspection

Ofsted’s devastating judgement of Croydon’s Child Services department, rating it ‘Inadequate’ – the lowest possible grade – was strongly critical of Council leadership, saying “Poor managerial oversight of cases fails to ensure that basic social work practice is of a good enough standard.”

Now even more damning revelations have come to light, as it has been revealed that the Labour Cabinet Member responsible for the department, Alisa Flemming, received 3 warnings that the service was failing from as early as February 2016 – 19 months before the Ofsted inspection was carried out.

In February 2016 the Chair of the Independent Safeguarding board, Catherine Doran, resigned less than halfway through her term. Her reasons, at the time, were kept secret. Now it has been revealed that she ‘resigned in February 2016 giving as her reasons that neither the then Chief Executive nor the then Executive Director had responded sufficiently to her concerns.  Her concerns related to both practice issues and to the lack of performance information.’

The Executive Director and the then Chief Executive of the Council also resigned their posts within four months of Ms Doran leaving.

A month later, in March 2016, an inspection of part of Children’s Services concluded that ‘management oversight at all levels is weak. Supervision is ineffective in the majority of cases seen by inspectors.  For some, there were long gaps in the frequency of supervision, and records show a lack of reflection and clarity about actions required in a significant number of cases.  This leads to a lack of direction and purposeful work with children, and contributes to unnecessary drift and delay. Senior managers have not created good conditions in which social workers can flourish. A number of social workers told inspectors that they are not clear about what they need to do.’

Finally, the Council carried out its own assessment of Children’s Services, in preparation for an expected Ofsted inspection, in December 2016 – ‘Practice Week’. Practice Week revealed that the service was ‘on the cusp of inadequate’, and, as a Council whistle blower pointed out in the letter seen below, Councillor Flemming was made aware of the findings.

Whistle blower letter

Despite these repeated warnings, it appears the Council did not act. As a result the Children’s Services department, responsible for looking after Croydon’s most vulnerable children, is failing. From July 2015-2017 Councillor Flemming had an attendance record of 28% for the safeguarding board, the key advisers on the performance of the department. Perhaps if she’d attended more, she wouldn’t have missed the multiple warnings – and Croydon’s children would be in better hands.

Croydon children let down by Labour

 

Conservatives plan fly-tip patrol to clean up town

Residents all over Croydon believe that the Labour Council is losing the battle against fly tipping. Labour made dealing with this a key election pledge in 2014 but the continued prevalence of fly tipping across the town shows that it has failed.

At a meeting of the Council in February, the Conservative opposition unveiled their plans to tackle the scourge of fly tipping in Croydon. Should they win control of the Council in elections in May, Croydon’s Conservatives will institute fly tipping patrols, with Council officers actively seeking out fly tips in GPS-equipped vehicles, allowing follow-up teams to rapidly clear up the waste. The enforcement will also extend to fly tips on private land, which are not included within the Labour Council’s clean-up targets.

Tim Pollard, leader of the Conservative group on Croydon Council, said,

“We believe a much more pro-active approach to enforcement and clean-up is needed. Fly tipping hotspots are well known, yet fly tips are often in place for weeks because the Council currently waits for fly tips to be reported before cleaning them up. Our fly tip patrols will actively seek out fly tipping, allowing them to be cleared much quicker.”

“The current administration’s fly tipping and environmental contract management is far too passive and a firmer grip is needed on all environmental services providers. It is wrong to sit back and wait for residents to report issues before addressing them.”

flytip busters

Labour’s hated local plan to go ahead

Labour’s ‘Local Plan’ went through its Inspection in Public, which resulted in a few changes to the original proposals. Conservative councillors attended most inspection sessions to support residents, unlike Labour councillors who  stayed away.

Creating the local plan is a legal requirement and the work has been going on for many years and goes through lots of stages. And there is much to like in the final plan, which lays down the policies and proposals which will determine what does and does not get planning permission over the next 20 years or so. But there is also some very bad, unsound policy, and where it is bad, it’s very bad.

The bad policy falls into a number of key areas:

Loss of Green Belt status for a number of cherished open green spaces in the south of the borough. Some of those spaces will end up with no protection whatsoever

Downgrading of a major area of Metropolitan Open Land in and around Shirley Oaks Village to having no protection at all (MOL is a form of protection like Green Belt which makes development in an area
very difficult). Some of the land had its protection reinstated by the inspector, but some did not

Creation of a number of large ‘intensification areas’ where developers are encouraged to greatly increase the allowed density of development: these areas include parts of Kenley, Forestdale, South Croydon and Shirley. The proposed Sanderstead area was deleted as unsound by the Inspector

The creation of a Gypsy and Traveller site behind the Purley Oaks Recycling Centre – this would preclude the desperately needed recycling centre expansion. Having backed down from putting the site on Green Belt land in Croydon Central (good) they have now chosen instead a site in Purley whose only qualification for being a gypsy and traveller site is that the council is the land-owner!

Croydon Conservatives offer help for carers

Croydon Conservatives have launched one of their first manifesto commitments for the local elections in 2018, and it is to provide support for carers by reducing council tax for many.

Councillor Tim Pollard, Conservative Group Leader says “ Croydon’s incredible carers make considerable sacrifices to care for loved ones within their home. That’s why the Conservative manifesto for the 2018 elections will contain a pledge to use council tax discounts to support many carers and will exempt some carers from council tax entirely.

“Carers looking after friends and relatives with an illness or disability save Croydon’s statutory services an estimated £660 million annually in Croydon alone. This is the right thing to do to help these pillars of our community, without whom so many would have a much poorer quality of life.”

Nursing Home

Fairfield Halls reopening delayed until 2019

At the end of October the council made the shock announcement that Fairfield Halls is set to remain closed into 2019 .

When it re-opens it will do so in stages, which begs the question as to why Labour rejected the  Conservatives’ idea of phasing the whole development to keep the venue alive throughout.

Cllr Helen Pollard, Croydon Conservatives’ culture spokesman, said “It is deeply disappointing that the opening has apparently been delayed. When the Halls were closed in summer 2016 the council said it would re-open in Spring 2018. Just like every other town centre project, it is now delayed, contributing to the run-down feeling the town now has.”

By Jim Linwood (https://www.flickr.com/photos/brighton/6354011431/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Letting down vulnerable children: Croydon’s social services slammed by Ofsted

In a devastating announcement, it was revealed in September that Croydon’s Labour-run Council has failed its OfSTED inspection – judging social services for children to be ‘Inadequate’ across the board.

The deeply disturbing judgement reveals a chaotic and mismanaged service, going sharply backwards under Croydon’s Labour administration, reversing what was measured as a positive direction of travel when the council was last inspected in 2012. Labour could have built on this legacy, but instead they allowed this vital service to crumble.

Cllr Maria Gatland (pictured), Conservative spokesperson for children and young people, has slammed Labour’s performance: “This is the first time children’s services in Croydon have ever been judged to be failing, and it should be greatly concerning to every parent in the borough. Labour has squandered the progress made under the Conservative administration and is failing Croydon’s most vulnerable children and young people.”

The Government has already appointed a commissioner to oversee the work of the department for the next few months and the council has been forced to set up an Improvement Board made up of government experts, its own senior managers, consultants, the administration and a member of the Opposition – Cllr Maria Gatland.

In spite of the clear failures of political oversight by the current cabinet member, Labour’s Cllr Alisa Flemming, both she and the leader of the council have steadfastly refused to resign.

Cllr Tim Pollard, Leader of Croydon Conservatives (and former lead member for Children’s Services 2008-14), comments: “This current administration in the town hall is obsessed by its pet vanity projects but seems unable to deliver the basic services that we all rely on. Protecting children is one of the most important duties of the council: it must do better”

Labour almost blows Westfield scheme

Only a last minute intervention by Conservative Minister for London, Greg Hands MP, working with Croydon South MP Chris Philp and the leader of the Conservative group on the council , Cllr Tim Pollard, has prevented our hopeless Labour council blowing the Westfield scheme.

Up and down the borough residents have been asking “Where͛s Westfield? Why is nothing happening?͛

The answer is that our Labour council has been making demands on the scheme that it wasn’t able to accommodate and, in so doing, they risked the developer walking away.

The scheme was brokered back in 2013 by the Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson, supported by the then Conservative-controlled council. Planning permission for the scheme was first granted in 2014. All was proceeding smoothly until Labour took control of the council, at which point they began to move the goalposts, putting the scheme at risk.

Points about which they have been arguing include how much social housing the scheme must contain and how much contribution the development must make towards the costs of upgrading the town’s infrastructure. The problem is that in the time the council has been prevaricating, building costs and the uncertainty around Brexit have pushed the scheme to the limit of viability.

Cllr Tim Polllard, Conservative Group Leader, says “It’s time our Labour council got out of the way and let the developers get on with implementing the scheme. This development is just too important for the town for it to be right for the council to make any further demands and risk the scheme not happening.

͞If the Minister for London hadn’t got the council into a room and knocked heads together, there was a real chance that the scheme might have collapsed. That would have been a total disaster, given how many other schemes are waiting to see what happens with this one before going ahead.”

͟Following the arrangements brokered by the Minister, a date was agreed for the application, in a revised form, to go back before the planning committee and permission was unanimously granted in November with cross-party support.

The scheme is important not just in its own right as a major redevelopment, but also because it is the key to unlocking lots of other improvements. Without the Westfield scheme there will be less money available through the Growth Zone deal, whereby the government agrees to forego some of its takings from business rates to allow the town to use that money to finance a huge spend on infrastructure.

And with every other scheme in the town centre on hold or behind schedule – including the Fairfield Halls, now not scheduled to properly reopen until 2019 – we need to keep the pressure on Labour to ensure it doesn’t blow the best opportunity that the town has had to make a real step forward for decades.

Croydon Labour almost blows Westfield plans
By Panhard (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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