This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 10/07/2018.
Croydon’s parks and open spaces: who should look after them?
I enjoy walking; whether it’s just a stroll around the block or a ten-mile hike along the coast, I really do love it. Well, what’s not to like, being outdoors, getting some exercise and seeing fantastic things along the way? It certainly beats my typical day at the office, confined to a desk staring at a computer screen for hours on end. Even though I enjoy my job!
So it won’t come as a surprise if I tell you I like visiting our local parks and open spaces. London may be an urban jungle, but luckily we’ve still got a lot of green space, from the royal parks like Regent’s and St James’s to the commons in Streatham and Clapham, there’s something green for everyone.
If we get a little more closer to home, Croydon alone has more than 100 parks and open spaces. So many, in fact, that even after living here for nearly fifteen years, I still can’t say I’ve visited all of them. For those of you out there who share my passion for green spaces, you’ll agree we have some fantastic local parks in Croydon; from the rolling hills of Happy Valley in the south to the wooded hills in Addington in the east; from the tranquil ponds in Waddon to the west to the lakes in Norwood to the north. Finally, last but not least, we have the resplendent Queen’s Gardens in the centre – and so many more.
Croydon plays host to ‘City Commons’ and also to Selsdon Wood
I think Croydon is lucky, as not only does it have the parks and open spaces owned by the council, it also plays host to four of the ‘City Commons’, owned and managed by the City of London Corporation. These include the commons at Coulsdon, Kenley, Riddlesdown and Farthing Downs. We also host Selsdon Wood, owned by the National Trust, but managed by Croydon Council. In each of these cases, the land is protected from any sort of redevelopment, preserved for the benefit of the masses and for generations to come.
This brings me back to Croydon’s parks and open spaces and whether or not we can comfortably say they are afforded the same level of protection. Unfortunately, I believe the answer is no. I’m informed that in Croydon’s recent Local Plan, about thirty different greens spaces in the borough weren’t offered any sort of protective order, local or otherwise, meaning that they are potentially at risk of redevelopment. Many of these spaces are recreation grounds. Now, having just praised how great Croydon’s parks and open spaces are, it would be a real shame if we lost any – and it’s made we wonder what could we do to protect these wonderful green spaces for our children and our children’s children?
I think our friends in the north have the answer. On 20th November 2017, after three years of consultation and discussion with the likes of the National Trust and other charitable bodies, the cabinet of Newcastle City Council made the decision to set up the Newcastle Parks Trust. The plan is that the council continues to own the parks, but by early 2019 they’ll transfer responsibility for around twelve of them to the trust. The trust’s primary objective will be to protect the parks from any sort of change of use or redevelopment. Under the arrangement, over the first ten years, the council would give the trust just under £10 million to get it started, and enable it to create a sustainable model that will – in time – reduce its dependence on funding from the local authority.
It may be very tempting for councils to sell off tracts of land to private developers
Given that councils all across the country are being forced to make tough spending decisions, the budgets for parks and open spaces are almost always cut or under threat, and in the very worst scenarios, it may be tempting for councils to sell off or even consider selling off tracts of land to private developers in order to raise funds. Fortunately for the people of Newcastle, their council has taken this courageous decision to set up a trust that’ll protect them from themselves and future governments from either side of the political spectrum – and will benefit their city and its residents for years to come.
We only need to look at Croydon’s skyline to know that developments are springing up like toadstools all over the place. I’m not just talking about the towers in the centre of town like those on either side of East Croydon Station (Ruskin Square to the west and Menta to the east), I’m talking about developments on Green Belt land like Cane Hill in Coulsdon. Okay, so these developments may not be on former parks per se; however, once all these other pieces of land have been redeveloped, where will the developers’ eyes turn to next? Our parks and open spaces. So, maybe Croydon Council needs to follow the example set by Newcastle City Council and protect our parks and open spaces now to ensure they don’t get concreted over?
Just before the recent local elections, I went to a Question Time-style question-and-answer event at St Peter’s Church in South Croydon. On the panel were the leader of the council (Labour), the leader of the opposition (Conservative), and candidates representing the Liberal Democrat and Green parties. The last question of the night was, “I’ve been enjoying the spring blossom on the trees in my neighbourhood over the last few weeks, all because the council planted these trees thirty-odd years ago; what will you do that’ll create a lasting legacy for Croydon and the generations yet to come?”. I don’t recall any of the responses if I’m honest with you… but maybe the best response could have been “protect our parks and open spaces forever and ever”.
Croydon councillors, what do you say? Will you let our parks live happily ever after?