Over 3,000 people signed a petition against selling off green space in Grangewood Park after the council tried to sneak through the sale notice.
There was a huge public backlash with furious residents objecting to the plans announced in an advertisement on Boxing Day in a newspaper not even covering Croydon.
The Friends of Grangewood Park set up the petition and were in the process of challenging the decision when the council took the unusual step of releasing a press statement announcing it was abandoning the sale.
The 195 sq m strip of land at the side and front of Heath Lodge was being sold to allow access to the property which the council had decided to sell after allowing it to sit empty for years.
On January 6, a Croydon Council spokesman said that strong public opposition was the reason it had decided not to sell the building or land. Public consultation on the proposal was due to close on January 13.
The spokesman added that: “The council wanted to see the dilapidated former Grangewood Park keeper’s cottage and garden restored and reused as a family home, which is why we asked for public feedback on draft proposals to sell this home to a private owner.”
The council had no official communication with the FoGP or the wider community about the land grab and have still made no contact about the future of the lodge.
But a series of FOIs, published in the last two editions of The Chronicle, revealed that the council had been planning to sell the lodge for years because it didn’t want to invest in restoring the Victorian building it had abandoned and allowed to rot .
Last June, this letter written to Thornton Heath ward councillors reveals a meeting with the assets team about the disposal of the land and lodge.
Following the outcry all three local councillors lodged objections to the disposal of the land.
Cllr Karen Jewitt said about the council u-turn: “The work behind the scenes paid off. We listened and took on board what the residents were saying and we are really pleased that the council has listened.”
As for the future of the building, Cllr Jewitt said that there will be discussions with residents about what they want to see happen.
In the statement from the council it tries to take the high ground claiming that:
“Although this proposal is about restoration, not redevelopment, we have heard from many local people who oppose this plan. As a result, we have decided this property will no longer be sold into private ownership, and instead Croydon Council’s elected members and officers will work with local people over the coming months to find a viable solution the community supports.”
The head of assets management Stephen Wingrave was the chief architect behind the sale plan according to the FOI correspondence.
In the response to letters of objections the Asset Management and Estates Teamwrote: “Croydon bought Grangewood Park in 1901 as a recreation space for local people, and we have since introduced local planning protections to keep it that way. It was our intention to sell the Lodge with a clear garden boundary and with a restrictive covenant on the land to prevent it from being developed. Our objective was to see the Lodge refurbished and the garden restored and maintained by the new owner.“
However, once again the FOIs provided a different story with officers admitting they had no control over whether the building was demolished by the subsequent purchaser. There was no mention of ‘restoration’.
This is the second time in three years that Croydon Council has been forced to abandon plans to flog off the Lodge as a result of public outcry following a previous Chronicle expose.
Ironically, in the Local Plan which was recently out to public consultation for review, it says of Grangewood Park that it is a green space identified as being ‘demonstrably special and of ‘particular significance’ to the local community and is a historic and a secluded oasis.
It also describes the Friends Group and its volunteers as ‘fantastic’ .