In their manifesto for the local elections, Labour said they viewed open spaces as “key assets for the local community”.
If you read those words at the time, you probably interpreted them as meaning that Labour believed that these were places which needed to be protected.
It turns out they had a much more sinister meaning. The Labour Council has just published a paper entitled Asset Strategy 2014-2019 proposing to build over them:
“A number of school sites have very large playing fields and ancillary land that may be considered excessive for the number of students that attend the school. Where this may be the case the schools will be identified and opportunities considered for development of affordable housing”.
(In case you’re interested, when the Council talks about “affordable housing” it means council housing, not homes local people can afford to buy).
This is an appalling policy. There are plenty of brownfield sites in Croydon suitable for development. What we’re short of - particularly in the centre and north of the borough - is open spaces. Yet at a time when more and more children aren’t getting enough exercise, our Council is planning to build on their playing fields. No wonder Edward Handley of the Croydon Playing Fields Association said he was “horrified” when he was told about these plans.
When the Croydon Advertiser challenged the councillor responsible - Simon Hall, who represents Fieldway ward - he said a list had been drawn up of all schools in Croydon comparing pupil numbers with playing field size but “he was reluctant to give specific examples”. So there you have it: a hit-list has been drawn up but this councillor - whose salary we all pay - won’t tell us which schools are on it. When pushed he admitted “some are in the New Addington area” and finally named one, Castle Hill Primary in his own ward.
If you feel as angry about this as I do, please sign the petition I am collecting to try to force the Council to think again at www.gavinbarwell.com/saveourschoolfields - and forward this link to your neighbours to encourage them to sign it too.
I have submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Council to try to get hold of the list that Cllr Hall refers to.
I have also written to all schools in the borough to see if any of them think they have “excessive” playing fields.
I have asked my Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and UKIP opponents at the next election to join me in campaigning against this daft idea. I hope that they will get behind this and make it a cross-party campaign.
I will keep those who sign the petition updated on progress with our campaign.