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Labour admits it WILL change controversial Croydon playing field document as fortnight of spin takes another turn


LABOUR will amend a council report which said it would look into building on school playing fields, a senior councillor has told the Advertiser.

It follows an extraordinary series of events at the town hall on Monday night which began with the Conservatives tabling a motion calling on document to be changed.

The cabinet unanimously rejected the proposal, describing it as "desperate", "not based in reality" and accused the Advertiser - which first reported the plans - of "sensationalising".

But a cabinet member later told Edward Handley, the chairman of Croydon Playing Fields Association, that the strategy document WOULD, in fact, be changed.

The U-turn follows a fortnight during which the Labour group has desperately tried to distance itself from the controversial policy, which was briefly outlined in its asset strategy published before a cabinet meeting on November 17.

The report said "a number of school sites have very large playing fields and ancillary land that may be considered excessive for the number of students who attend the school".

"Where this may be the case, schools will be identified and opportunities considered for the development of affordable housing or other service provision."

Simon Hall, the cabinet member behind the report, then told the Advertiser that playing fields should be "in the mix" when considering what land could be used to meet housing demand or creating additional school places.

The idea was criticised by Croydon Playing Fields Association and the Conservative opposition but, despite the strategy being approved by the cabinet without amendment, Labour has insisted it has no plans to develop on school land.

Approached about what Mr Handley had been told, a Labour source admitted the council was looking at changing the wording.

The source described the report as a "big cock up" which few, if any, of Cllr Hall's cabinet colleagues had read before the story came out.

"Officers should never have put it down in that way in writing. What may have happened is that officers did a register of assets and maybe got a bit excited and put down a list of things that they thought were possibly up for grabs. People do make mistakes and we will amend it."

Asked why the cabinet had rejected the Conservative group's motion if they intended to change the wording, our source said: "What we wouldn't do last night is make it appear we were doing a U-turn.

"We weren't doing a U-turn because the reality is that it was never going to happen. There are loads of us on this cabinet that would never allow things to be built on our playing fields."

Quizzed about why, if it was so opposed to the idea, the document was not amended when it came to cabinet on November 17, our source said: "By the time [the report] was picked up it was out in public.

"I think something all of us have learned is when you have a massive paper, with lots of policies in it, and you put them down in writing, you need to be careful when using words like 'will' and 'consider' because it does allow your opposition to ask what's happening with it.

"It will only be changed because we don't want people to be worrying that it's going to happen, because it's not."

Tim Pollard, leader of the Conservative opposition group, described the cabinet's behaviour as "childish".

"They talk about wanting a new style of politics, well they have a very curious way of going about it. They would get so much more credibility from admitting they got it wrong and that it would be changed.

"We're going to keep calling for them to revise the wording because until they do it could be implemented any time they feel like it.

Mr Handley said he was "relieved" the council had dropped the idea but added: "We need to be vigilant because it could rear its head again." 

Labour admits it WILL change controversial Croydon playing field document  as fortnight of spin takes another turn

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