News in brief summer 2016

By - Monday 5th September, 2016

The big stories of the summer, summarised for your convenience by the Citizen team

Croydon voted to remain in the European Union

The debate over staying in or leaving the EU raged across the UK in the first half of this year, and Croydon saw its share of skirmishes between the campaigns. Street stalls from all sides were regularly present, with non-political groups also holding events to discuss the potential consequences of either outcome. In the referendum on 23rd June, Croydon joined most London boroughs in voting to remain in the European Union. While the nationwide result saw a leave/remain split of 52% to 48%, Croydon’s voters backed staying in the EU 58% to 42%. Almost all senior political figures in Croydon backed the remain campaign, with the exception of London Assembly member Steve O’Connell.

Political map of Croydon “certain to change” in boundary review

The Croydon Guardian reported that Richard Buck of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England had expressed certainty that changes to ward boundaries would occur in the upcoming review ahead of the 2018 council elections. The review, which will redraw the political borders of Croydon at ward level, is likely to take steps to correct inconsistencies such as Labour stronghold Broad Green having 11% more voters than the borough average, while Conservative safe wards Coulsdon East, Selsdon & Ballards, and Sanderstead are all 10% less populated than average. Buck also suggested that ward names may also be changed to reflect the communities that they represent. In almost all wards, three councillors are elected every four years. Labour currently controls the council, with forty councillors to the Conservatives’ thirty.

Calls grow for and against directly-elected mayor of Croydon

Croydon is currently governed by a ‘strong leader’ system, which sees a powerful council leader and cabinet made up of the party that wins the most council seats. Some London boroughs have moved instead to separate the leader from the election of the council itself via a distinct election for a ‘mayor’, and this idea is now gaining traction in Croydon. Cases made in its favour include a hope that anyone elected to the position would have to seek the votes of all parts of Croydon, ending the ‘divided borough’ problem of solid Labour support and solid Conservative votes in the north and south of the borough respectively leading to each party allegedly favouring its supportive areas at the expense of the opposition’s. Those against the change cite fears that too much power invested in one person is a risk that the borough may not be able to afford.

While there is some grassroots cross-party support for the referendum, senior figures have tended to break along party lines, with Labour’s Steve Reed MP and council leader Tony Newman against a directly-elected mayor and Tory MPs Gavin Barwell and Chris Philp launching a petition to trigger a referendum on the subject. The campaigners in favour of the change are confident that they will acquire the requisite number of signatures (10,000), in spite of a ruling by Croydon Council that any petition would need to be a physical one, ruling out an online petition.

Croydon Advertiser has ‘no Croydon reporters’

The Advertiser has been steadily losing staff for several years, and owners Trinity Mirror recently announced that all staff would need to reapply for their current jobs. A result has been the departure of all remaining Croydon-based reporters from the title. Award-winning journalist Gareth Davies left the long-running local paper in June over changes in its operations. In first a series of tweets, then a longform article on SubScribe, Davies bemoaned the absence of local reporting in the latest edition of the paper, which was largely made up of list-based articles pulled from various Trinity Mirror websites. Davies also outlined many problems which were not unique to the Advertiser, sparking a nationwide discussion around the role and future of the traditional local newspaper. The Croydon Guardian, the only other weekly local paper in the borough, is facing similar changes and its journalists are set to strike this autumn.

National Trust ‘Edge City: Croydon’ tours oversubscribed

Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

Promising an exploration of Croydon’s rich and varied architectural history, the tours took place in July and proved exceptionally popular, quickly selling out. Attendees either took part in a walking tour of the town centre or a rode a Routemaster bus around the sights of Croydon. For a full report on the tours and the thinking behind them, see pages 6 and 8.

Fairfield Halls closes for refurbishment

After a tense six months of proposals, public campaigns and petitions, Croydon Council’s controversial full closure and refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls began on 15th July. Its famous boards now bearing the word ‘GOODBYE’, the Halls will not be open again until the refurbishment is completed in approximately two years. The plan is part of a £30 million development of what the council calls “the Croydon Arts Quarter”, though questions remain over where all of the quoted £30 million will come from. The Christmas pantomime, always the highlight of Fairfield’s calendar, will go ahead in a converted space in Waddon Leisure Centre this winter.

Croydon Central MP appointed Housing Minister and Minister for London 

Conservative MP Gavin Barwell, who served as a whip during David Cameron’s premiership, has been given two ministerial portfolios by new Prime Minister Theresa May. Barwell is the first MP for a Croydon seat to hold the post of Minister for London. In June, fellow Croydon MP Steve Reed (Labour, Croydon North) paused his own frontbench career by resigning with many of his colleagues from Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet after the leave campaign’s victory in the EU referendum.

Forest Hill sink hole caused severe railway problems

Beleaguered railway operator Southern found itself at the mercy of nature on 19th July when a freak sinkhole opened up beneath the track in Forest Hill, north of Croydon. A key route for rail services coming in and out of the borough, the disruption at Forest Hill was vast and resulted in the cancellation of all services between East Croydon and London Bridge. Chaos ensued until the hole was repaired days later, though a separate smaller hole caused disruption shortly afterwards.

Regular live jazz events drew growing audience at East Croydon coffee shop

Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

Live jazz returned to Croydon’s nightlife this summer thanks to regular events at Smoothbean! coffee shop on Dingwall Road, close to East Croydon station. Four-piece jazz outfit Infusion plays each Friday from 5:30pm until 8:30pm to a growing band of devotees, indoors when the variable summer weather has required but outdoors whenever possible. Smoothbean! is a coffee shop by day but licensed in the evenings and in addition to coffees and teas offers a range of wines, juices, craft beers and snacks to its jazz-loving clientele. The popular live jazz sessions will continue into the autumn.

Croydon held the only Pride event in outer London

On Sunday 28th August, Croydon PrideFest became the only LGBT Pride event to be held inside the M25, apart from central London’s Pride held on 25th and 26th June. Around 3,000 people were estimated to have taken part in PrideFest, which began with a march along North End to Surrey Street led by Croydon’s first openly gay mayor, Wayne Trakas-Lawlor, and the choir of Croydon’s LGBT asylum-seekers’ support group, Rainbows Across Borders, who also sang on the stage in Surrey Street market where a lively entertainment programme was held.

The afternoon was hosted by singer/songwriter Christopher Hall and performers included Edinburgh Fringe stars Topping and Butch, West End musical Thriller star Oggie, Pride’s Got Talent winner Jack Fuereisen and former The X Factor contestant Danny Charles. New Addington-based Cronx Brewery was among a number of outlets serving food and drink to revellers.

Croydon PrideFest 2016 was sponsored by Nudge Factory, the Cronx Brewery, the Croydon Partnership, Freshfields Market, the Lansdowne Hotel, Solutions gym, Guildhouse Rosepride, the Whitgift and Centrale shopping centres and Think Events.

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The Croydon Citizen

The Croydon Citizen

The Croydon Citizen is a non-profit community news magazine for London's most populous borough.

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