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Councillor Oliver Lewis — Moving forward from Masterplanning.

Councillor Lewis began by saying that he had been a Council Member since 2014, representing New Addington South, and a Cabinet member following the May elections. He reported that there has been some delay in implementing the ‘Croydon Destination Parks’ Master Plan due to staff changes.

Speaking about the Happy Valley Master Plan he confirmed that this survey had attracted the most responses and engagement from the local residents and visitors alike. He understood from this that it is a local open space which is much loved and cared about. Cllr Lewis said that the Council will endeavour to work with the local community to achieve the aims embodied in the Master Plan: to improve public access and enjoyment of the site.

Cllr Lewis went on to outline the aims which include: access for the disabled – there is currently none on the site – to be achieved by the provision of surfaced pathways leading to vista points which will give views across the valley; the creation of a natural play area for local children. Cllr Lewis announced that Natural England is currently involved in proposals for the declaration of a new National Nature Reserve (NNR) in Croydon that will stretch from Farthing Downs through Happy Valley, Coulsdon Common and Kenley Common to Riddlesdown. The declaration is one of the highest for open spaces, along with Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and recognises the importance of a site for wildlife, geology and accessibility for people to experience nature. Cllr Lewis said that this is a partnership project between Natural England, Croydon Council and the City of London which will open up opportunities for the partnership to engage with schools, community groups and visitors. He had recently visited Happy Valley for a guided tour given by the Countryside Warden, Dominic North, and had been particularly impressed by the sheep grazing project and abundance of wild flowers.

Turning to the role of Friends groups Cllr Lewis believed that their knowledge of the area can contribute to the design of new pathways and vista points. Dwindling Local Authority resources meant that projects will be slower to realise, however Friends groups can support projects by bidding for additional funding and grants. The new children’s natural play area and replacement of the trim trail in Happy Valley would be a capital project and the Council will be seeking Friends views on the proposals.

Projects for the other sites in the Borough, both proposed and realized, include: new facilities for Ashburton (skate park), Norbury Park (deculverting of Norbury Brook, enhanced play facilities, outdoor Gym), Lloyds Park (new recreation facilities) and South Norwood Lake, (new fishing platforms and trim trail), Park Hill (enhancement to the Walled Garden being managed by the FG). Lloyd Park is to remain an important events space.

Discussion and Questions from the Floor:

The Chairman opened the discussion by asking Kelvin Shewry if he would like to speak about his role both in Croydon Council and the implementation of the Master Plan ‘Destination Parks’ project. Kelvin began by saying that he had been in post for four months as the Live Well Programme Manager, within the Active Lifestyles Service, which included overseeing play provision and elements of parks development. In addition, he is the lead responsible for driving the Masterplan recommendations forward. He agreed that there has been a delay in implementing the Masterplans but, at the same time, there is no immediate intention to carry out all the suggestions and projects published in the Masterplans. He explained that some projects will take longer than others. Kelvin is also involved with the ‘Live Well’ team of seven advisors who work with individuals on six key health issues (diet, keeping a healthy weight, lowering alcohol intake, increasing activity, mental health and well being, stopping smoking and healthy relationships). There are currently nine outdoor Gyms in the borough and a further one is planned for Norbury Park (the gyms are funded by the Council and a mental health charity). Though there are higher levels of poor health in the north of the borough, Croydon is focusing on encouraging the provision and use of outdoor gyms in areas of need across the borough which are located on available outdoor open spaces. As part of the health agenda there is a program of free activities which include weekly guided health and nature walks.

Q:  Having worked as a landscape architect and project manager I recognise that complex projects need maintenance. For example some play areas are out-of-date and some projects, such as ariel walkways require a large investment of money, maintenance and management. What resources have Croydon Council to develop and maintain projects which if not available would result in eventual closure?

A:  Cllr Lewis acknowledged the importance of the question raised. He agreed that play equipment is expensive to supply and replace and new equipment usually has a ‘life’ of fifteen years. There is also the threat of damage from arson and vandalism. A fire in the Wandle Park play area destroyed swings which cost £15,000 to replace. There are fifty-five play areas in Croydon and the budget has to be spread across all of these. However, Cllr Lewis felt that in recent years a lot has been done for parks and improvements have been made both in the provision of more robustly designed equipment and responses to damage providing ‘next day’ repairs. Contracting properly is important and the maintenance of toilets and play areas need a service window in the contract for speedy repairs.

Q:  Happy Valley is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), are there any plans for development there.

A:  Cllr Lewis said there are no proposals for development of areas of Happy Valley, which receives a grant from Natural England’s Higher Level Stewardship Scheme for the protection and encouragement of wildlife. A large area of Happy Valley is also protected by Metropolitan Green Belt status and SSSI designation. However, some non SSSI fields may need to be protected. Cllr Lewis assured those present that any proposals will only be carried out with the information and consent from local people. Local groups will also be involved in the declaration of the area as a National Nature Reserve (NNR) in the New Year (as described above). The NNR declaration will bring new obligations requiring research and/or monitoring which does not need to be environmental and could involve local people, graduates and post graduates.

Q:  Is there an internet site which can give us more information on National Nature Reserves.

A:  The Natural England website:

Q:  Several questions: Firstly, there are problems with Happy Valley in wet weather – for example, the entrance and footpath leading from Chaldon Way can become very muddy. Also, plans for a cemetery in the area behind the Fox was considered in a report produced by Croydon Council 10 years ago – is this still a possibility? Finally, knotweed, an invasive species, is growing on the border of Happy Valley with Tandridge – are steps are being taken to control this?

A:  Cllr Lewis responded by saying that there are no proposals for a cemetery on fields in Happy Valley. Plans are to extend the Green Lanes Cemetery. It is acknowledged that burial land is an issue due to population growth.

Countryside Warden, Dominic North assured those present that Happy Valley was surveyed for knotweed three years ago and problem areas were identified and dealt with both on Happy Valley and bordering Tandridge. Since then both he and Tandridge Council have continued to spray and control the weed. Dominic plans to arrange to meet with Trandridge to review the issue. Regarding the muddy footpaths, there is a program of ongoing treatment and regular maintenance of footpaths on Happy Valley.

Q:  Currently Dominic’s office is at Grange Park in the former Sports Pavilion. Are there any plans for a proper Countryside Warden’s Office as I understand there are plans to convert the building for use as a cafe?

A:  Cllr Lewis replied that the current contract with ID Verdi for ground maintenance will be terminated in the new year and work will be taken back in house (Croydon) which will give an opportunity to address a new arrangement for the Warden’s Office. Work on the Sports Pavilion is on the radar and tender documents have been prepared. Some work will be needed on the building and this is being priced. There will be more news in the New Year.

Subsidiary Q:  To be successful a cafe will need footfall but could be successful in Grange Park. It is hoped that Dominic could benefit from the proposed refurbishment of the Pavilion. Could it be a useful local centre for leaflets and the display of information on other local open spaces?

Q:  Regarding funding. It is apparent that a lot of the proposals in the Master Plan cannot be implemented due to lack of funding. It had been generally understood that all available funding for parks had been used for the Tyrens survey. On the question of the NNR, will it need extra funding and where will the money come from and what are the proposals for keeping funding going. At the time of the survey the Friends of Farthing Downs objected to the use of ‘Park’ to describe Happy Valley. We believed that Nature Reserve was a better description. Did we help?

A:  Cllr Lewis replied that funding for Tyrens survey was sourced from Central Council funds as part of the Ambitious for Parks Project. Maintenance for parks and open spaces will come from revenue while capital projects benefit from money made from Central Croydon building projects which has enabled the purchase of Colonnades and Croydon Park Hotel whose income will raise more funds for revenue. However, funding is difficult which is why co-operation is needed. Partnerships think creatively, but there is no easy solution. Regarding the possible cost of the NNR, it need not cost more but would provide a platform for extra funding through grants.

Q:  Would the re-instatement of the Trim Trail contravene the SSSI designation by damaging the rare wild plants on the site.

A:  Projects will proceed with the knowledge and input from partners. The new trim trail could be located on the site of the former trail, as this was not on the SSSI.

The Chairman brought the Presentation and Q & A session to a close. He had observed that nine months ago the ‘Master Plan – Destination Parks’ was released, but the question remained – would it be shelved? It is now clear from Cllr Lewis’s presentation this evening that this is not the case and efforts are being made to bring many of the proposed projects to fruition. Equally, Friends groups need to play an increasing role in the realisation of Croydon Council’s good intentions. The contract with ID Verdi for ground maintenance of open spaces will not be renewed next year and maintenance will again be the responsibility of the Council which will enable a new dialogue to open up between the Council and the public.

The Chairman thanked both Cllr Lewis and Kelvin Shewry for coming along this evening to speak to us, for their encouraging presentation and for answering our questions.