Photo - Labour's Cllr Simon Hall as many imagined him last night!
The ongoing battle to save our school playing fields from being developed for housing took a step into the world of panto last night at the December council meeting. When challenged, as they surely knew they would be, over their plans to build social housing on school playing fields the Labour front bench just cried ‘Oh no we won’t!’
The slight problem they seemed not to foresee was that no-one believed them.
Why? Well, just as in panto when you shout ‘Oh no he isn’t!’ and everyone can clearly see that he is indeed behind you, we have all seen and read the Cabinet paper voted through by Labour two weeks ago that clearly stated they ARE considering building on playing fields (you can read it here).
Amazingly, given their denials, the evidence doesn’t end there. After the Asset Strategy that contains these plans was passed, one of Croydon’s award winning journalists, Gareth Davies, contacted Cllr Simon Hall to ask him about their new strategy. He then ran a story in the Advertiser based on what Cllr Hall had said. You can read this article here. With the cat out of the bag a twitter battle started to rage, with senior Labour figures appearing to contradict Cllr Hall and accusing the Conservative Party of lying! You can read the Labour leader’s tweet here.
Let’s be clear where we are. Labour created a strategy document that states ‘A number of school sites have very large playing fields and ancillary land that may be considered excessive. Where this is the case the schools will be identified and opportunities considered for development of affordable housing.’ They voted this strategy through and Cllr Hall confirmed to the press that they have a list of potential schools. They then started denying it and calling anyone who pointed it out liars: even Sarah Jones (their parliamentary candidate for Croydon Central) joined in making this tweet.
Which brings us to the Council meeting. Given time to reflect, and knowing you are going to be challenged, one might have expected a prepared response designed to defuse the growing public alarm at the policy. What we got was more denial, speaker after speaker stood and simply denied that they ever even thought about building on playing fields. Cllr Hall even went as far as to say that Gareth Davies had misquoted him! This was the turning point. As Pinocchio could have warned Cllr Hall, when you are telling porkies you will eventually make a mistake and be exposed. What Cllr Hall had presumably forgotten was that his conversation with Gareth Davies had been recorded! If a transcript were published we could all see EXACTLY what he said. Gareth has not disappointed, you can read the transcript here. You may also wish to join in the chorus of ‘Oh yes he IS!’
Councillor Simon Hall wrote this strategy. He took it to Cabinet. His fellow Labour cabinet members passed it and made it official policy for Croydon Council. They then denied it and accused the Conservatives of lying. Now THEIR lies have been exposed. Simon Hall knew all about it. He created it, he made a list of schools and the policy is still in place.
This takes us to the final piece in the jigsaw. Labour have created a cosy little system to allow themselves to ‘dispose’ of council assets on the quiet. Cllr Hall has been granted powers to sell off council property worth up to £5million without asking for permission, all he has to do is ‘inform’ cabinet that he is doing so. He can go ahead with this devious plan behind closed doors and we will only find out when it is too late. This is the risk we now face. Gareth Davies summed this up perfectly in a series of tweets last night that can be read here (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6).
Simon Hall should apologise to the chamber for misleading it (that's a political euphemism which non-politicians would simplify into the rather cruder term 'lying') and resign. His policy should go back to Cabinet and be revised and Croydon Labour should complete their U-Turn. Last night Croydon Labour voted down a Conservative motion calling for them to do just this. Until this u-turn happens we must all continue to push to protect our school playing fields, as the risk remains very real.
You can help do this by signing our petition here.