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Croydon Council leader deletes reference to building housing on school playing fields from official report


A REPORT which included the potential for building on school playing fields has been secretly amended by the council leader, removing any reference to school playing fields.

Tony Newman has deleted an entire paragraph which stated some schools in Croydon had "very large" playing fields which could be considered "excessive" and could be used to build houses on.

The asset strategy report was amended and re-uploaded to the council's website despite Labour rejecting a Conservative motion on Monday evening calling on them to make such changes. 

The re-worded report still contains a reference to reviewing "school sites" and says "further development of existing sites will be critical" in order to meet "pressures" including those "relating to housing" and school places. 

Tim Pollard, leader of the opposition, accused Labour of being "either duplicitous or incompetent" and called on Cllr Newman to re-word the report again, this time with a specific line committing the council to protecting school fields.  

Cllr Newman said he had used executive decision-making powers available to the leader of the council - "in full agreement with all the relevant cabinet members" - to amend the report.

He said the amended report would not be be discussed at the next cabinet meeting, because otherwise "we would have another two weeks of scaremongering".

Cllr Newman called on Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell to end his petition against the plans, signed by more than 1,000 people, adding that he was "scaring various children and parents in schools around the borough and that had to stop".

"He said it would stop if we changed the words and we've changed the words, so my challenge to Gavin Barwell this morning is please stop this petition.

"We haven't got a cabinet meeting until December 15 so the decision I've taken actually in terms of clarifying the position once and for all, which I hope everyone would surely welcome, was taken less than 24 hours after the council meeting."

"There were never any plans to build on school playing fields, I accept the document could have been worded more sensitively, but we were never going to do it, we made it crystal clear.

"It's quite clear that for some people my word as the leader of the council wasn't good enough.

"We could not allow two more weeks of Gavin Barwell, who should be behaving more responsibly, standing outside school gates scaring the living daylights out of children and parents."

Mr Barwell told the Advertiser: "Labour has clearly U-turned and said it's no longer policy to build on school playing fields. 

"Actually, in line with the incompetence of this story, they haven't done the amendments properly, and there is still a line in the report that does imply housing development. They should take that out as well. 

"But, as it stands, it's a very good thing for politics that, after thousands of people signed a petition, the council has changed its position."

Members of the Labour cabinet repeatedly denied there were ever plans to build on school playing fields during Monday's council meeting, despite Simon Hall, cabinet member for finance, backing the plans during an interview with the Advertiser on November 14.

During the debate on Monday, Cllr Hall, who brought the original asset strategy report to cabinet on November 17, said "this administration has no plans to sell school playing fields or build on school playing fields".

On Tuesday the Advertiser revealed that, minutes after Labour rejected a motion calling on them to amend the report, a cabinet member told the chairman of Croydon Playing Fields Association that it would, in fact, be changed. 

A Labour source later confirmed it would be amended, but said the process could take up to several months. 

The source said Labour had voted against the Conservative motion because they did not want to "appear to be doing a U-turn" as "the reality is that it was never going to happen".

The "amended strategy approved by the Leader" is dated December 2 and has removed the following paragraph, along with further reference to school playing fields:

"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 or other service provision, subject to negotiation with the provider where the Council is not the landlord."

Croydon Council leader deletes reference to building housing on school playing fields from official report

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