How robust is the council’s evidence base for parks policy?


By - Wednesday 14th December, 2016

A closer look at council policy toward Croydon’s green spaces


One of the issues that the Planning Inspector on the Local Plan, adopted by the full council on Monday 5th December, must face is the robustness of the evidence which the council has used to justify its policies and proposals.

One area of weakness appears to be in relation to parks and open spaces.

It uses an out of date open space assessment and outdoor recreation needs report from 2009, which identified over 50% of the borough’s residential areas as being deficient in access to all forms of open space.

The plan states that over a third of the borough is open space, which is unevenly distributed with some areas, mainly to the north, with degrees of deficiency in access to nature and/or open space. ‘The challenge for the Croydon Local Plan: Strategic Policies is to ensure access and quality of existing open space is improved whilst making the most of the natural resources and adapting to climate change’.

Few, if any, extra benefits appear to have been achieved so far

It could have provided a more up-to-date analysis if it had kept up its subscription to GiGL (Greenspace information for Greater London CIC: www.gigl.org.uk). GiGL has data for 2013 and 2014 that shows the amount of open space in each ward, and and the open space which is actually accessible. Top of the list are Heathfield, Coulsdon East and Selsdon & Ballards with between 55% to 62% of their land area being open space. Some wards like New Addington have about one third of their land as open space. Norbury has only 15.8%. At the bottom at between 2.3% to 4.8% are Addiscombe, Purley, and Broad Green.

When private open space is taken out from these figures then access to open space is much lower: Addiscombe has none, in Selhurst only 2.7% of land is accessible, Broad Green 3.4%, and Bensham Manor 3.8%.

GiGL’s statistics on the % of homes with a deficiency in access to nature show that 92% of households in Bensham Manor are in an area of deficiency, Broad Green 83%, Norbury 74%, West Thornton 68% and Waddon 59%

While Fairfield which covers the Town Centre has 22.9% open space, only 14.5% of the Ward is accessible open space. It has a projected population growth of nearly 11,000 people. Yet the developments there have very little accessible open space provision. When Labour supported  the original planning application for the proposed new Westfield centre in the lead up to the 2014 local elections, it said it wanted to see more benefits from the scheme. Few, if any, extra benefits appear to have been achieved so far. It needs a broader vision for the Centre and its role than simply endorsing it as a palace for consumerism. One such benefit could be two large green spaces along North End and Wellesley Rd, and a very wide green area where the walkway between the two.

The Local Plan has very little to say about how it will achieve its aims

With Shirley only being 16% open space it puts the concerns there into a wider perspective than simply the easy jibes of ‘Nimbys’ and ‘Tory Front’. Protection of accessible open space in the South should be seen as vital for the growing population of the North and the Town Centre.

The Local Plan has very little to say about how it will achieve the provision of additional accessible open space in the north and town centre.

Sometimes ideas from the past can be useful in thinking about the future. In her article ‘Park Policy and Design of Public Parks in London, 1900-1945′ in the latest edition of The London Gardener, Jan Woudstra discusses the advocacy by Henry Vaughan Lanchester of a radial park system which ‘lead from the more densely populated areas out into the open country, thus encouraging a general exodus towards it, and they also adapt themselves to the gradual expansion of the city’. He also advocated that river systems be used to create walkways, nature reserves and recreation grounds.

There is a strong case for funding to be switched to the proposed Wandle Valley Regional Park

The National Playing Fields Association (founded in 1926)  advocated a minimum standard of 5 acres per 1,000 population, four for recreation and one for ‘quiet refreshment in pleasant spaces’.  The Greater London Plan 1944 proposed 4 acres, because Unwin’s 7 included play and recreational buildings.  GiGL is currently researching provision in relation to population numbers for some of its London Borough partners

The Lee Valley Park proposal was included in the Plan. Croydon has to make a financial contribution to this regional park. There is a strong case for that funding to be switched to contribute to the proposed Wandle Valley Regional Park. The extent of the role which the council is playing in this project through the Wandle Valley Regional Park Trust, which has recently published its strategy, is unclear.

It is to be hoped that the current inquiries by the House of Commons Communities and Local Government and Greater London Council Environment Committees into parks and open spaces will make recommendations that will be helpful for the future in Croydon.

Note

The statistics quoted are the copyright of GiGL with specific contractual permission given to Sean Creighton to use in this article, and only for that purpose. Any reader what looks at the statistics on the GiGL website and wants to use them will need to ask GiGL for permission.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

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

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