This post was first published by Croydon Advertiser on 13/04/2018.
Croydon’s Conservative party is promising these things in its local election manifesto
The Tories, currently in opposition, want to bring in an extra voluntary council tax band for those with the biggest homes, among their other policies.
With just under a month left now until Croydon’s local elections, many of us will be thinking about who we would like to see representing us.
After all, councillors are tasked with bringing resident’s comments and concerns into council meetings and to ensuring super-local issues like potholes, pub closures and anti-social neighbours are dealt with. Croydon Council is currently Labour-run, with Labour councillors holding 39 of the authority’s seats.
The opposition and shadow cabinet are both led by the Tories, who have 29 seats. The two remaining councillors have stepped down but have not yet been replaced.
At the moment, there are no councillors from any other political party – so The Advertiser decided to speak to the two big parties about what their manifestos really mean for Croydon residents.
Here’s what we learned from speaking to Cllr Tim Pollard – the borough’s Conservative leader. You can read more on Labour’s plans here.
What is included in the Conservative manifesto?
Cllr Tim Pollard, who represents Sanderstead ward and has lived in the borough for 32 years.
The father-of-two is re-running for election this year but is hoping that the council will, once more, become Conservative-led after they lost power in 2014.
His party’s manifesto for 2018 is divided into the following nine categories:
1. Listening to residents
The party has pledged to make Councillors more accessible to residents and for signatures on petitions to be taken into account more often. Its promises include hosting regular public meetings and roadshows, setting up a residents’ association forum and ensuring meetings about parking are held in public.
The Tories are also pledging to divide some of the authority’s budget “by patch” and allow residents to “have control” over what is spent and where.
“In the longer term we will review whether we should ditch the cabinet/scrutiny model which is responsible for much of the secrecy around the town hall,” the manifesto adds.
Cllr Pollard said he did not yet know exactly how much of the budget could be divided in this way, or how long it would take to re-structure the model of the council – but that these moves would “allow time and money to be better divided and prioritised”.
He said: “This is not something which could happen overnight – it would be introduced gradually once the panels of people and relevant structures were set up. People always tell us that they don’t think the council is open enough or listens to their priorities – these are ways of rebuilding that relationship with residents.
“People think the council does what it wants and goes ahead with its plans in the first place, no matter how much objection there is.
“Granted, most people will be happy to complain but less happy to give up a school night to sit in a drafty church hall and talk about politics – but we need more transparency and to listen to what residents feel are areas of major concern to them.”
He explained that the move would see the authority retain a “main budget” and that a “much smaller minority” would go towards these “ward priorities”.
2. Walking, cycling and driving
Transport pledges include implementing a new cycle hire scheme, installing more air quality monitoring stations and freezing on-street parking permit charges.
The party has also promised not to or allow developers to build flats on car parks unless it can be proven that they are disused, and to offer free parking at places of worship.
3. Construction in Croydon
If the Conservatives gain leadership of the authority, they have pledged to put an “emergency stop” on all Brick By Brick developments – including Coulsdon’s Lion Green plans. Brick by Brick was set up by the Labour-run council as a council-owned private development company, after the Tories’ own CCURV project was scrapped.
They have also promised to protect the borough’s parks and green spaces from development, and to push for the number of new homes the Mayor of London’s London Plan requires to be built in Croydon to be lowered.
Explaining the situation with Brick by Brick, Cllr Pollard said: “Brick by Brick is not, by and of itself, evil.
“The emergency stop would see all projects paused and re-assessed – we propose to re-purpose Brick By Brick, not to abolish it. The company is Labour’s way of building social housing, but the problem is that it is a convoluted and hideously complicated method.
“Moreover, they have to build twice as many properties, seeing as only 50% tops can be social housing.
“This results in rising levels of density which local residents have told us, does ruin their lives.”
Despite most of this section focusing on preservation, the manifesto also promises to “get the stalled regeneration schemes moving again, such as Taberner House, College Green and Purley town centre”.
4. Tidying the place up
The Tories claim that since Labour gained control of the council in 2014, fly-tipping has risen by 64%, though Labour argue the rise is down to an increase in reporting.
The Conservatives promise to invest in “motorised teams of ‘Fly Tip Busters’” – people who will “tour the borough looking for fly tips, excess litter, graffiti, badly maintained verges and all the other annoyances which infuriate residents”.
These ‘Busters’, Cllr Pollard explained, would consist of teams in a small car or van going round “more often”.
Justifying the potential costs of this, he said: “Labour has priced this scheme at £83 million but I’d say it’s closer to £500,000.
“By working more intelligently and targeting hotspots, we can save both time and money.
“At the moment, the council relies on residents reporting fly-tips for vans to be sent to take the rubbish away.
“These patrols would mean both steps can be done by the council, making it faster.”
The manifesto also promises to stop fining people who leave rubbish next to bins at dumps because they are full, and to have free green waste collection days in key district centres.
Free bulky waste collections every four months are also promised in the manifesto.
He added: “I do have sympathy for people who put their rubbish out next to the bins simply because the council has not set up proper waste collections for them.
“We want to make sure this doesn’t happen in the first place.”
5. Local jobs
“Fairfield Halls, Croydon College, Taberner House are all delayed,” the manifesto states.
“Our local economy is stagnating, and that’s hurting jobs in our town.”
Proposed solutions listed in the Tory manifesto include keeping free parking for one hour in the borough’s district centres, installing superfast broadband throughout the borough and supporting the expansion of Gatwick Airport.
Cllr Pollard admitted that the free one-hour parking scheme was implemented by Labour – justifying this by saying “sometimes a manifesto is there to say ‘we see this project is working, we promise we will not cut it'”.
He added that the parking could be extended in time and to more locations – but not “to the point that it catered for commuters rather than shoppers.”
6. Putting the fun back in Croydon
The party has promised that, if elected, they will safeguard all of the borough’s parks and libraries from closure.
A big investment is additionally proposed to equip one of the parks with a state-of-the-art adventure playground, café, performance spaces, outdoor auditorium for concerts, zip wires, cycle routes and bike hire.
They are also promising to continue supporting street art, festivals, markets and LGBT groups in the borough.
While Cllr Pollard said he could not yet reveal which park or how much this would cost, he said it would be “very attractive” for the borough.
“There are a couple of obvious choices [of location], but I can’t say more because we would want to bring the community with us,” he said.
“It couldn’t be a case of a top-down project imposed by the park users by the council.
“At the moment, people would have to travel to somewhere like Bromley or Reigate for a similar facility and I think that’s a shame.”
As for Fairfield Halls, the Tories say in their manifesto they would re-open the venue faster than Labour would – but Cllr Pollard admitted he thinks it is now “too late” to open the venue any earlier than spring 2019.
He said: “There has been a lot of drift and delay with this project and I do not believe we will inherit a finished venue.
“I don’t think it’s physically possible now to open earlier than 2019, but we can promise no further drift or delay.
“We opposed closing the venue at all for a long time and now, the longer it is shut for, the longer it will take to re-build its audiences and its reputation.”
7. Keeping residents safe
To tackle Croydon’s knife crime problem, the party has proposed creating a knife crime commission made up of experts from around the world.
It promises to “push the police” towards a zero-tolerance approach to anti-social behaviour and low level crime, and to co-ordinate more meetings between residents and top teams of cops.
Explaining this double-edged approach, Cllr Pollard said he would like to see violence addressed as a “mental health and health issue rather than purely one for policing”.
He said that the commission members, from places where knife crime prevention measures have been effective, could offer solutions for Croydon – while “nipping anti-social behaviour in the bud” would “kerb violent outbursts”.
“Violence, rather than simply crime, is a country-wide issue,” he said.
“However, there are places where it is simply harder to see a way out of crime or an alternative to all-encompassing violence.
“We have to treat the root causes of violence, like mental health problems and violence problems, to nip it in the bud.
“At the moment, it can be hard to go for minor incidents as they require a lot of manpower to deal with for a low conviction rate – but by showing we will not tolerate anger, that there is another way to being disgusted with society and lashing out, we can guide people in a different direction.”
Explaining why the party was not simply calling for more stop and search, knife arches or police, he added: “Carrying a knife in itself doesn’t cause these tragedies – it’s that outburst of violence due to the fact this person has been bottling up their expression.
“People need an alternative way to express themselves and to know that pulling out a knife is not an acceptable way to react.”
8. Caring for the vulnerable
In the wake of last year’s damning Ofsted report, where inspectors found “widespread and serious failures” the council’s children’s services, the Tories have promised better protection for looked-after children.
Their manifesto reads: “We will invest properly in our children’s social care service to ensure that social workers have manageable case loads and are properly managed, supported and equipped to do the job well.”
As for housing, new council housing is promised alongside new ‘temporary tenancy’ blocks for homeless people.
The party has additionally pledged to offer council tax discounts for carers, crack down on rogue landlords and encourage more people to become ‘Dementia Friends’.
Cllr Pollard explained that he would approach the care issues in the borough by hiring more social workers but cutting costs in the authority’s people departments for social care.
9. Paying for it all
This section of the manifesto claims that the Labour Council has overspent its budgets for social care by a £33million over the last four years.
To fix this, the Tories are promising to divide a proportion of the authority’s budget by ward and to introduce a Band H Council Tax voluntary contribution, inviting Croydon’s wealthiest residents to make an additional payment.
Other financial pledges include not raising council tax by more than the rate of inflation, and by cutting back on expensive events “when money is tight”.
But where is all this money going to come from?
Cllr Pollard insisted that his party could meet their goals by “smarter and more honest” budgeting – and would not need more funding than the local authority currently gets.
“We are aware that there is no magic money tree,” he said.
“While it could be the case that no-one volunteers to pay Band H, I don’t think this will happen.
“Moreover, it is more symbolic than anything and shows our commitment to making sure everyone can contribute.”
When asked whether he would need more funding to meet his goals, he added: “The budgets which Labour have been going over were not set from above – they set these themselves.
“Moreover, their party have lost at least £7 million in council tax from delaying projects such as Westfield.
“We would budget in a way which is smarter and more honest, as well as ensuring projects which would result in council tax income this large are completed on time.”