A STRATEGIC APPROACH TO BIODIVERSITY AND OPEN SPACES IN CROYDON
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING WEDNESDAY 9TH NOVEMBER 2022
Click for Chairmans's Report
Click for Secretary's Report
Click for Guest Speaker, Councillor Scott Roche
Chairman’s Report: Perspective on the year
The Chairman, Graham Lomas, welcomed our guest speaker, Cllr Scott Roche, members and guests. He began by his report by reflecting on the problems faced as a result of the pandemic. Through 2020 and 2021, work had been completed on the refurbishment of the Happy Valley and Farthing Downs Nature Trail with new posts and QR codes and the addition of an audio commentary, spoken by fifteen well known celebrities, each for two posts across the walk. The Nature Trail booklet was both re-written and up-dated and reproduced in full colour. The final stage of the project was to translate the audio version into three languages, French, Hindi and Polish which was completed in 2021. The success of the Nature Trail refurbishments and improvements are due to the work put in by Ian and Pauline Payne on the booklet, by Ian for work on the QR codes and by Dominic for revisions of the online material (via QR) and booklet and organising the translators.
The focus for the 2021 AGM was a ‘Tree Symposium’. Presentations where given by three invited speakers, Richard Edwards (Croydon), Thomas Oliver (City of London) and David Hatcher (Woodland Trust). Their presentations where put together in a booklet entitled ‘Shaping up to Climate Change’. The Chairman contributed additional articles. The booklet was available in June this year. Thanks are due to Pauline Payne for producing minutes of the meeting, which was used as a basis of the booklet, to Ian Payne for the typesetting and to Melanie Harrison and Rod Swain for the photographs. [‘Shaping up to Climate Change’ has since been made available online at www.friendsoffarthingdowns.co.uk/AGM2021.html]
Turning to the future, the Chairman reported on proposals by Natural England for the South London Downs National Nature Reserve (inaugurated in 2019) to be included in an extended Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (ANOB) which covers the Surrey Hills. Landscape Architects are currently looking at areas beyond the Surrey Hills and between Greater London and the M25 which have great landscape value and could be eligible for inclusion. The Chairman has made a submission on behalf of the Friends supporting evaluation of the SLDNNR for ANOB status. He also reported that the current ANOB designation may be changed to broaden the requirements for inclusion. For example the Coulsdon Manor Golf Course may be eligible as an area of special value which needs to be preserved. The Chairman will keep in touch with the proposals.
The Chairman took the opportunity to extend his thanks to the Committee for all their contributions this year and to Cllr Margaret Bird and Chris Wright, both of whom could not be present this evening. Thanks are due also Dominic North and Thomas Oliver for their continued support of the Friends.
Finally, the Chairman reminded us that this year we had sadly lost both Gill Peachy and Elizabeth Brooks who had passed away in the Spring. Both Gill and Elizabeth had made valuable and important contributions to the Friends. The Chairman said that he had attended their funerals on behalf of the Friends.
The Secretary echoed the Chairman’s opening remarks that despite the difficulties of the past years the Friends had continued to be productive producing two booklets and providing supportive work for the refurbishment of the Nature Trail.
Fund raising had dropped due to cancellation of Quiz Nights in 2020 and 2021. Both the Spring and Autumn Quiz Nights went ahead this year, although for a variety of reasons attendance had been a little down. Our Quiz Master is willing to host two quizzes for the Friends in 2023. Further ideas for fundraising will be explored to top-up reserves. These will be reported in our newsletters.
The Coulsdon South Station project is continuing but illness and bad weather have prevented regular gardening sessions this autumn and winter. We hope to recommence in February. Meanwhile we are grateful to the Station Staff for their support and help which is much appreciated. Various new projects are being thought through in consultation with the Station Manager with a view to improving the look of the flower beds.
While events were still on hold earlier in the year, we were able to organise a Bird Walk and Flower Walk in the summer – many thanks to John Lawrence and Dominic North for their leadership. We also organised a stall at the re-instated Old Coulsdon Rotary Fair where the Friends ‘Shaping up to Climate Change’ and the Nature Trial booklet sold well.
The sad loss this year of Gill Peachey, who regularly organised our Moth Nights, and Elizabeth Brooks, who ran the friends facebook page have left a huge gap both for the Friends and the local community. They will be very much missed. Donations in memory of Gill have funded two new benches in Happy Valley, both have brass plaques engraved with a butterfly to commemorate the butterfly transept which Gill walked every year. Donations in memory of Elizabeth will also fund benches for Happy Valley. Remaining donations will be held for appropriate future projects including a new Nature Trail information board.
Guest Speaker: Councillor Scott Roche on ‘Croydon’s Open Spaces
The Chairman introduced the guest speaker, Councillor Scott Roche, Cabinet Member for Streets and Environment, who spoke on the future for Croydon’s open spaces. Cllr Roche is councillor for Shirley South and lives close to some of Croydon’s important open spaces. A discussion paper from the Friends entitled ‘A Strategic Approach to Biodiversity and Open Spaces in Croydon’ had been previously circulated to Members and was available to those present this evening.
Councillor Roche began by outlining his Cabinet Member’s responsibilities under the auspices of the Streets and Environment, a large portfolio which included: Road Safety, Air Quality, Transport, Open Spaces and Waste Management. His emails had increased from twenty a day to two hundred, but his aim was to follow up on all queries. As part of his initial remit Cllr Roche would be visiting all forty-seven ‘Friends of’ Groups (FoGs) in the Borough to explore the issues and problems unique to each site. Pollards Hill and Waddon Ponds are next – interest in Friends groups are growing in the North of the Borough and they are creating their own voice which must be listened to. Cllr Roche had visited thirty-five groups since May. Financial problems are key and there is a need to be creative with funds available. Two new members of staff are required to administer funding for FoGs, and the search is on for suitably qualified applicants, which may take time.
Turning to more practical matters, Cllr Roche had found that grass cutting was a major problem. There are proposals to re-establish the service but there are issues with the mowers – larger mowers are required, two are broken and there is a shortage of drivers. There is a need to better inform people i.e. in the South of the Borough: why on Nature Reserves the grass was not cut. Cllr Roche outlined proposals to keep residents informed as to when sites will be cut. This can be done via FoGs and local Councillors websites and social media. Cutting can also be co-ordinated with planned events. Re-wilding and creation of wildflower meadows is another area in which more expertise is needed. Wildflowers grow in nutrient poor soil and some projects have not been successful. Cllr Roche also aims for the Council and FoGs to work together through websites and social media to recruit more volunteers. The aim is to create a closer working relationship with FoGs and stakeholders.
Cllr Roche had recently met with Refuse Collection crews, some of whom had worked for the Council for twenty-five years or more. His impression was of their frustration with the current management who had changed the structure of the service and the rounds rotation. There is also a problem of missed bins being incorrectly reported by residents who had actually forgotten to put them out for collection. These still had to be collected with cost of both time and money. A number of aims and changes are being considered and the Council and Viola are working together to make improvements, but there is much to understand and establish.
Insurance is a major problem for FoGs which can cost £150 per annum – a borough-wide liability insurance has been moted. Cllr Roche has requested that an investigation be made as to whether the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), a charge that local authorities can set on new development in order to raise funds to help fund the infrastructure, facilities and services, can be used for insurance. Section 106 money has now been allocated – £200,000 for green spaces and £100,000 for trees. Section 106 money is a contribution which can be sought from developers towards the costs of providing community and social infrastructure arising as a result of a new development. Proposals are needed to identify what and where – FoGs can be involved in the decision making. There is money still to be spent but there is a limit on the notification time for projects after which developers can re-claim the funds. Regarding funding cuts made from the Council’s non-statutory obligations, i.e. maintenance of parks and open spaces, FoGs can apply for grants which are not available to Councils. A Government grant provided £85,000 for Whitehorse Recreation Ground which needed refurbishment. Other sites may be eligible.
Cllr Roche also spoke about street cleaning services where improvements are being sought. The contract with Viola is standard category ‘B’. However, it is recognised that streets have different categories. There is an App available for reporting problems which creates data and maps which can help address the problem. Removal of Graffiti and fly tipping is now taking place across the Borough. Cllr Roche finished by asking that problems are reported. He also recognised the difficulties for FoGs who need more support.
Questions from the floor
Q: Re new developments of up to nine flats in residential roads. These developments change the ambiance of the road and impact the community. Should developers provide funding – for example better children’s playgrounds.
A: FoGs can help here, but applications for funding will require help from a trained officer.
Q: Re use of CIL and 106 money – Development in Central Croydon could provide millions but there seems to be nothing available. Also, emission-based parking is sensible but not working and parking charges are exorbitant while District Centres suffer as people can go elsewhere. Need to re-think parking regimes and charges to encourage people back.
A: This is a complicated problem which we are working on and realize need to encourage use of local District Centres. The increase of short-term parking means less revenue. More use of electric vehicles also reduces revenue. With regard to Croydon Town Centre, there is a push to re-instate proposals for the Westfield re-development of the Whitgift Centre which will rejuvenate the Town. CIL money has not been used because a procedure is lacking.
Q: Re 106 and CIL funding applications: the community have skilled people why not use them as a resource?
A:There is an officer in charge of the 106 agreement but there is a time element and more officers are needed. Cllr Roche will be meeting with the Mayor to work out a strategy.
Q: Re biodiversity: an ecologist is needed in the Planning Department, e.g. developers are destroying badger setts, but there appears to be a ‘brick wall’ between ecologists and planners who need to be ‘more at one’ with each other.
A: Agreed there needs to be an interrelationship between planning procedures and protection of wildlife. The Mayor is currently looking at the current intensification strategy in the Borough and how it relates to wildlife at local level. The legal requirements to protect wildlife are acknowledged. Officers now refusing more applications acknowledging need to fit in with the local community not dominate it.
Q: Re biodiversity: The collapse of biodiversity is real. A strategy is needed to know what we’ve got.
A: There are a lot of reports on biodiversity in the Borough which need to be looked at. Data and information is needed. A strategy will be developed by officers.
In summarising Cllr Roche referred again to the severe reduction in staff and the number of vacancies waiting to be filled and the resulting reduction in services which means that required levels of services are difficult to meet. There is a need to compile and integrate information, but currently there are no appropriate applicants to fill posts. Re biodiversity – a replacement is needed sooner rather than later for Mieke Weiss. A competent environment officer is still being sought.
On the question of ‘cut and collect’ equipment needed following wild meadow mowing. Each site has a different requirement and the Officer would need to add the machinery to the availability of resources.
It is recognised that parking difficulties and high charges drive people away from District and Town Centres, and this needs a solution to keep people local.
Cllr Roche asked that residents please contact him with concerns and details of any of the issues discussed above. He recognised that a Forum was needed for FoGs to share experiences, information and knowledge. The current feedback from FoGs and interested groups is frustration, distance from the Council, lack of action and communication and lack of appreciation. Cllr Roche has sympathy for the current situation which needs understanding and action.
The Chairman thanked Cllr Roche for coming this evening, for his informative and frank presentation and for answering questions from members and guests.