Council admits that Croydon’s heritage has been significantly compromised

By - Monday 1st September, 2014

Croydon Council planners admit that our borough’s heritage has been significantly compromised over recent decades, says Sean Creighton

Heritage overwhelmed by ‘deep plan’ development: St Michael’s church, Poplar Walk, Croydon.
Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

This admission appears in the document ‘Sustainability Appraisal Scoping Report. Croydon Local Plan: Strategic Policies – Partial Review‘, the consultation period for which closed on July 30th 2014.

They cite as an example the bulky, deep plan, high rise modern buildings around the Grade I listed church of St Michael in Poplar Walk in the 1990s. ‘The lack of protection and ensuing disregard of the significance of a heritage asset’s setting is an ongoing problem that should be addressed in any review of existing policy.”

This admission is welcome.

Croydon’s heritage assets fall into two groups: designated and non-designated. Additions to these groups in 2007 and 2008 included:

  • 9 new conservation areas (2008)
  • 147 new locally listed buildings (2007 – from 130 in 1997)
  • the local list of parks and gardens and 17 new ‘local areas of special character’ (LASCs  (2008).
A full list of assets is appended* below.
Cuts have led to serious shortcomings in the care of heritage assets

There are several groups of heritage assets which are not mentioned, including cemeteries and church burial grounds, houses with plaques, surviving examples of old street furniture and artefacts from Croydon’s rural and industrial past.

The planners state that there are data limitations:

  • Local authority records regarding designated and non-designated heritage assets are sparse in places and in need of updating in others.
  • Most conservation areas do not currently have accompanying Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plans (CAAMPs). A CAAMPs project and a listed building survey are underway, both of which will increase data available to inform baseline info.
  • There is no heritage at risk register maintained at a local level to supplement that run by English Heritage.
  • No further review of the local list is currently programmed, despite the fact the last review took place 5 years ago, and several errors have been logged since.

These represent serious shortcomings by the council partly due to the 69% cut in spending on planning and development control activity between 2008/9 and 2013/4.

No Croydon cabinet portfolio contains stated responsibility for heritage

The partial sustainability review considerations outlined in the consultation report are welcome, namely:

  • To increase the level of protection given to enable the preservation and enhancement of both designated and non-designated heritage assets
  • To increase the level of protection given to enable the preservation and enhancement of the setting of heritage assets
  • To consider ways in which Croydon’s wider historic environment and built and cultural heritage can be better protected and recognised
  • To bring forward investment in the historic environment for regeneration, reuse and adaptation
  • To ensure the move from ‘Local Areas of Special Character’ to ‘Local Heritage Areas’ is based on a robust and transparent methodology.

While I take the view that heritage is part of the culture portfolio, Councillor Timothy Godfrey’s stated cabinet responsibility for Culture, Leisure and Sport does not use the word ‘heritage’. It does include as part of his responsibility for civil buildings the Croydon Museum and Archives. No other portfolio seems to spell out specific responsibility for listed buildings, the local buildings list, conservation areas or local areas of special character.

Given the fact that there are serious shortcomings in the protection of the borough’s heritage, and given the increasing threat to the historic built environment from developers’ approved and future proposed schemes, it is to be hoped that the council cabinet will consider amending relevant members’ portfolios to spell out specific heritage responsibilities. I also hope it will consider convening a day-long event to explore with local history and amenity societies, residents’ associations, owners and managers of heritage buildings and spaces, and individuals involved in activity around the history of their neighbourhoods, just what can be done to improve Croydon’s heritage protection.

*Croydon’s designated heritage assets are:

  • 149 listed buildings
  • 21 conservation areas (covering c.398 hectares, 4.6% of the borough’s total area)
  • 8 scheduled ancient monuments (SAMs)
  • 2 registered parks or gardens (covering 25.7 hectares, 0.3% of the borough’s total area)

Croydon’s non-designated heritage assets are:

  • 1,045 locally listed buildings
  • 22 existing local areas of special character (LASCs), with a further 17 to be adopted covering 128.7 hectares – 1.5% of the borough’s total area)
  • 50 parks and gardens on the local list (covering 585.7 hectares – 6.7% of the borough’s total area)
Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • Marjorie Daw

    and what about the sale of pieces from the Riesco china collection? and the failure to keep Fairfield Hall up to date?

    • Stephen Giles

      Oh please – not Riesco again, let’s face it, nobody had heard of it before the sale, and it took the usual local stirring time wasters to make a fuss!

      • Marjorie Daw

        Well I’m certainly local and if expressing my opinion is “stirring”, then I guess I’m a stirrer, but I had heard of the collection before, and visited it many times, as had many, many others. Perhaps you think cultural activities are a waste of time in general? If so, how sad.

        • Stephen Giles

          I have read your comment.

  • Sarah Freeman

    There are some facts included in your article that are now outdated, including that there are now fully adopted CAAMPs for more than half of Croydon’s conservation areas, and that the 17 new local areas of special character were adopted in 2013. I was surprised that you didn’t mention the heritage-focused Old Town Masterplan, which the Council has been leading on with involvement from the local community since 2012.
    Lastly, your proposal for a heritage-focused Council-run event with local history and amenity societies and other members of the community sounds like a great idea. Is this something you have formally suggested to the Council?