How sustainable can Croydon become?

By - Monday 25th August, 2014

Sean Creighton takes a look at how Croydon is seeking to become a more sustainable borough and the challenges this presents

Increasing housing density puts pressure on communities.
Photo of newbuild on London Road by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

In 1987 a committee of the United Nations defined ‘sustainability’ as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. In 2014, Croydon Council is grappling with how its Local Development Plan can reflect the principles of sustainability.

It involves decision-making that minimises negative impacts and maintains balance between ecological resilience, economic prosperity, political justice and cultural vibrancy. The banking crisis and the resulting government choice of austerity cuts, especially to local authority spending, have badly damaged progress towards sustainability. Linked with the drive for profit from the property development world, the reality appears to be increasing inequality, a widening gulf between the wealthy and the rest of the community, intensification of the jobs and housing crisis and the driving of many borough residents to cheaper areas of housing.

The council completed a short consultation exercise on sustainability on 30th July 2014. Few people and organisations knew about it. I alerted several on my Croydon email list and have submitted some personal comments. As it was subject to statutory timing limits, Croydon Chief Executive Officer Nathan Elvery has explained to me that the council cannot make the period longer.

The major challenges facing the council and the different types of communities (of place, ethnicity, interests and faith) are:

  • the estimated increase in population
  • increasing levels of deprivation
  • the loss of jobs in the borough available to local residents
  • the increasing stresses being experienced in many neighbourhoods experiencing a fast rate of change, and higher densities of population.
What will happen if the Croydon Westfield development does not take place?

The review contains recognition of some of the details of this, but does not really address the anticipated further cuts in council expenditure required by national government. We must also consider:

  • further loss of owner-occupied housing (other than in new blocks) and its takeover into the private rented sector
  • decisions taken by employers as to whether to move into or out of the borough
  • decisions of property developers seeking to maximise profit regardless of whether developments meet the borough’s needs
  • the increasing trend of the borough becoming a dormitory – a place where most people in work travel outside it for employment
  • the lack of an alternative plan if the Westfield/Hammerson development does not take place or is late in completion
  • the absence of any reference to the role and potential contribution of the community and voluntary sector

While there is a need for overall borough-wide strategy policies, the challenge of applying them differs not only from ward to ward but often between different neighbourhoods in each ward.

I have suggested that the final document that emerges from this review should include:

  • recognition that borough-wide strategic policies need to be applied to different areas of the borough (whether at ward, district or local centre level) in accord with the needs of and challenges faced within them
  • acknowledgement that the development of plans at these lower levels must involve local residents and businesses, in order to meet local needs and aspirations

The report discusses issue such as waste, water use, social inclusion and exclusion, noise, conservation of the built environment, culture, sport & recreation. 

As housing becomes denser, noise affects quality of life

The review document highlights Croydon’s poor record with regard to waste and admits there is a lack of information on commercial and construction waste, and on construction sites with site waste management plans. It suggests that consideration should be given to “increase recycling and composting and reduce waste going to landfill.” This is too narrow so I have recommended that it should read ‘increase recycling and composting and reduce domestic, commercial, and dumped and fly-tipped waste going to landfill.’

As families live closely together in small accommodation, noise becomes an increasing problem.
Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

The section on noise does not take into account the increasing problems of noise in residential neighbourhoods, especially in those leading off main roads as housing densities increase in some parts of the borough, competition on the streets for car parking, fast driving through side streets, the late evening and early morning hours economy, and anti-social behaviour. Noise can also be a further problem in blocks of flats and converted houses where sound insulation is not of a high quality.

This is a serious challenge affecting the quality of life of more and more residents, leading to negative attitudes towards each other and towards living in Croydon. I have therefore suggested consideration of the need for all new residential buildings to have high levels of internal and external sound insulation.

77% of Croydon’s residents report getting on well together

The review document states that the National Place Survey 2008 indicated 77% of residents from different backgrounds say they get on well together. 51% feel they belong in their neighbourhood, 34% of residents thought they could influence decisions in the local area and 23% had participated in volunteering in the previous twelve months, but only 16% had engaged in local activity designed to increase participation.

It admits to data limitations resulting from the government having cancelled the biennial survey, and that collecting similar data via the ‘Citizens’ Panel’ “may not provide comparable data.”

Increasingly transient neighbourhoods become less stable

Many people’s standard of living has deteriorated since 2008 because of the banking crisis and cuts in incomes and benefits and reductions in services. Anecdotal information also suggests that many people, especially long-term residents, have found socio-economic changes in their neighbourhoods difficult to understand and accept. The growth in private renting has increased the turnover of residents leading to less connected and less stable neighbourhoods.

While it will be difficult to carry out a survey of the opinions of a large percentage of residents, it is vital to get some idea of current opinions. I suggest small scale place surveys in, say, three neighbourhoods, representing the most affluent, the average and the most deprived.

CEO Nathan Elvery tells me that individuals and organisations “will of course be able to engage in the next stage of the plan through consultation on the Croydon Local Plan: Strategic Policies Partial Review early next year.’ Those who wish to can request to be added to the Local Plan consultation database.

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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