Yesterday the Leader of Croydon Council secretly amended the Council's controversial new Asset Strategy. So much for this being a transparent Council - it turns out policies agreed in public can subsequently be amended in private, say Gavin Barwell MP and Conservative Council Group Leader Tim Pollard.
The Asset Strategy the Cabinet approved on 17th November included plans to build on some school playing fields:
“A number of school sites have very large playing fields and ancillary land that may be considered excessive for the number of students that attend the school. Where this may be the case the schools will be identified and opportunities considered for development of affordable housing”.
In response to this shocking attempt to build on some of our remaining green spaces, Gavin Barwell MP and Croydon's Conservative Councillors launched a petition calling on the Council to drop these plans. To date over 1,000 people have signed the petition, demonstrating the intense strength of feeling on this issue.
The Leader of the Council has now removed the paragraph quoted above. This is a welcome u-turn and a sign that people power can work.
But in keeping with the shambolic way the Labour administration has handled this issue - first defending the policy, then denying it existed and now accepting it does exist and needs to be changed - Cllr Newman has managed to botch his u-turn. The amended Asset Strategy still includes two references to building on school fields:
“A review of existing school sites will be undertaken to identify potential opportunities for further expansion to meet the Council’s growing need for primary and secondary places. Over the next 3 years the Council will need to provide a significant number of additional places; and with pressures relating to Housing and financial resources stretched, further development of existing sites will be critical.”
“Academy schools have generally been granted 125 year leases on full repairing and insuring terms. However, as the freeholder, the Council still retains an interest in both the land and the opportunities that may exist for wider regeneration or development of housing and other Council related service provision where it meets the needs of our communities.”
Cllr Newman got into this mess because he didn't read the paper one of his Cabinet members had drafted. And even now he hasn't bothered to read it properly - he has simply deleted the paragraph we have been quoting. We need a Leader of the Council who pays attention to the detail.
Councillor Newman has asked Gavin and Croydon Conservatives to close the Save Our School Fields petition. When he gets his act together and removes all references to building on school fields from his Asset Strategy we will happily do so - we are interested in the Council adopting the right policies, not scoring political points. But with those two paragraphs remaining, the suspicion will remain that Cllr Newman has removed the 'worst' clause in order to prevent us being able to quote it and not because he is committed to not building housing on school land.
Cllr Tim Pollard, Conservative Group Leader, says "Given the mess Cllr Newman has made of his communications so far, a sentence in the Asset Strategy confirming that the council is now definitely opposed to building housing on playing fields and school ancilliary land would be welcome.
"But until we see the removal of the remaining sentences about building housing on school land, the battle to protect our playing fields goes on."