Croydon’s residents’ associations: power to the people, or routinely ignored?

By - Friday 28th November, 2014

Is anyone listening? Real consultation is more than a tick in a box, says Sean Creighton

Setting up the Love Norbury stall.
Photo author’s own.

Norbury, where I live, is entering a new phase in its development. Over £1m has been allocated for what are called public realm improvements. Croydon Council has adopted new plans for improving the local economy (the Growth Plan and the Croydon Promise) which include improving district centres such as Norbury and South Norwood. Can the role of residents and other local organisations be improved to strengthen their voice as the council forges ahead to implement the plans?

The big questions facing residents’ associations are:

  • Will the council listen to what they and businesses want or will officers dictate how the money is spent?
  • Will the associations have any meaningful involvement in drawing up the plans for improvements or will they simply be consulted – but then have their views ignored? So what has been the experience with council officers over the last couple of years?
Many required actions have not been implemented

There have been regular walkabouts by Norbury residents’ associations’ members and specialist officers involved in trade licensing and area enforcement. A long list of actions has been drawn up. Whilst those relating to fly-tipping, traders’ displays and trade waste licences have been dealt with quickly, many of the required actions have had to be referred to other officers. It is matters such as the re-siting and additional provision of refuse bins which have not been implemented.

As a result, the visual improvements the associations are seeking have not been actioned with the speed that is required. This undermines both their efforts and the point of their joint ‘Love Norbury’ campaign.

The planners recently approved the application from Paddy Power to extend its shop at 1421 London Road into the unit next door at 1423. I will be covering this in a future article for the Citizen. Individuals and residents’ associations submitted objections but the planners approved the application without referring it to the planning committee. They justified this on the grounds that there were fewer than twelve objections (the number that automatically triggers referral to the committee) and because no residents’ association or councillor requested a referral as part of their objections. The decision reasons posted on the council planning register do not address all the objections that were raised. This makes a mockery of planning consultation.

Those at the meeting were highly critical and suspicious of the council

The implementation of the new approach to economic development in the Growth Plan and Croydon Promise comes under the remit of the Development and Environment Directorate. The Growth Plan went to the cabinet on 14th July. Additional ideas were announced by Jo Negrini, Executive Director of Development and Environment at a meeting of property developers held on 16th September, before the details had been considered and approved by the cabinet on 29th September. She dismissed criticisms of the Westfield/Hammerson scheme as unfounded, showing a complete contempt for a range of legitimate concerns. This does not inspire confidence that public opinion will be given due consideration.

Despite the promise of public consultation in the district centres, the council ran an invitation-only event on the Growth Plan for businesses and representatives of the Norbury residents’ associations. Not surprisingly those at the meeting were highly critical and suspicious of the council, and little was achieved in terms of constructive debate.

The new administration states that it wants to create a more open and transparent process in its decision-making and improve public engagement. There is growing evidence that this is not being implemented, including in respect of the Growth Plan:

  • My request to address that meeting based on my assessment of the Growth Plan, which I had sent to councillors, was rejected
  • Constructive assessments of the Growth Plan, such as that of Croydon TUC, have been ignored
  • While openness and transparency need to be improved at council leadership level, it must also operate at ward level. Councillors should be in continual consultation with local organisations, especially residents’ associations
  • Councillors in each district centre should set up a local scrutiny review to examine why many of the actions agreed by the officers have not yet happened and what action can be taken to get speedy action
  • The local scrutiny review also needs to consider the proposed regeneration money, ensuring there is a partnership with residents and businesses to oversee budget planning and implementation
  • A joint committee of the residents’ associations, the local councillors and businesses should be set up to oversee the regeneration of each district centre
  • Residents’ associations should develop their own ideas for regeneration to strengthen their negotiating position in relation to the agendas the officers may wish to impose
  • A set of terms should be drafted on which to develop the relationship between the residents’ associations and councillors.
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.

More Posts - Website