What next for Croydon’s re-elected Labour council?

By - Wednesday 9th May, 2018

With local election turnout at just 38%, Croydon’s politicians need a change of style

Photo by Liz Sheppard-Jones, used with permission.

Voter turnout in Croydon was only 38%. It will take a lot of analysis to assess what the results in each ward mean.

Although Labour increased its share of seats to forty-one and retained control of the council, it clearly failed in the knock-up on election day to find the nine extra voters that would have ensured Momentum activist Louise Caragh Skipper’s election in Addiscombe East. This is now a split ward, with Labour’s Maddie Henson and Tory Jeet Bains.

Despite the well-thought-through campaign by the Tories, they failed to convince lots of voters to go to the polls.

It would be short-sighted to review the Labour hold as a vindication of the current way in which the council is run. Croydon’s discontented local community campaigns had not developed to the extent of working together. Looking over the border into Lambeth, Labour had a severe shock with five Green Party candidates being elected because of the growing and co-ordinated opposition to a range of council policies and actions, especially on libraries and housing estates. Unless Labour changes its style in Croydon, we could see this happen in 2022.

Labour needs to address how developers don’t meet housing needs, the Westfield uncertainty and the lack of any plan B for Croydon town centre

The Labour administration’s room for manoeuvre is narrowing, caught in the pincers of Tory government funding cuts and growing demand for council services due to the national austerity.

Among the many challenges facing the new Labour administration are growing social inequality, the continued failure to really address the issues that underlay the 2011 riots, the way that developers are not meeting housing needs, protracted uncertainty over the proposed Westfield retail development and the St George’s Walk redevelopment, the lack of a plan B if the developers pull the plug, and the future of Croydon’s green spaces.

The Labour Group will need to win public support and understanding. It needs to rethink its approach to public engagement, listen to communities’ genuine concerns about proposed developments whether by private developers or by the council’s own Brick by Brick vehicle, and ensure that there is public understanding about the adverse effects of national government policies.

I propose bringing back the former decision-making committee structure for the council

A start could be made by rethinking the governance system for running Croydon – the executive leader/cabinet system about which I recently wrote in the Citizen. Both Labour and the Tories have committed themselves to review it.

Should the current system – which excludes most councillors from decision-making – be replaced by a form of the former decision-making committee structure?

If I were a new councillor, I would propose the following:

  • To establish a Croydon Council Governance Commission to explore the Labour and Conservative manifesto commitments to reviewing the system with a view to reforms, including the abandonment of the executive leader/cabinet system, and the re-introduction of a strengthened decision-making committee system, with membership to include non-councillor representatives from the two political parties and through the Croydon TUC from the trade union movement
  • While the work of that commission is underway, there would be a need for some immediate reform to the (non-decision- making) scrutiny committee system. The workloads of the three sub-committees are heavy. More specialist ones could be created, involving more backbenchers and non-councillors. I would therefore propose to establish as an interim measure the following scrutiny sub-committees in order to involve more back benchers and more non-council members: health and social care; education; housing; streets and environment; transport; children and young people, parks, green and open space; social inequalities and community engagement
  • To establish a town centre scrutiny committee to monitor all developments in the central opportunity area and their infrastructure funding implications; to monitor in particular the Whitgift/Westfield and St George’s Walk area schemes; to discuss with developers the development of a plan B if schemes do not go ahead, with all its proceedings being held in public.
The council should withdraw from the Develop Croydon forum and conduct business with developers in an open and transparent way

There are specific planning issues on which both parties can agree:

  • That the planners should draft a list of green spaces by the end of June, in order to act on the local plan inspector’s advice
  • That meetings should be held on the draft with residents’ associations, park friends groups, those involved in environmental issues and local history groups, to ensure that the proposal list conforms with national criteria and takes account of all relevant knowledge
  • That a final draft should be submitted to the council cabinet in September

Finally, I would propose rethinking Croydon council’s relationship with the developers. The council should cease to participate in MIPIM events, end its membership of the Develop Croydon forum, and inform the development industry that in future its dealings with the council will be conducted in a publicly open and transparent way through the relevant committee system.

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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  • Charlotte Davies

    Seems a good plan let’s get on with it.

  • szczels

    Some sound ideas here! “inform the development industry that in future its dealings with the council will be conducted in a publicly open and transparent way through the relevant committee system.” Yes!