Croydon Council has admitted in a series of emails revealed by a Freedom of Information request that it is selling off ‘public open space’ in Grangewood Park.
The Chronicle also understands that a small section of park land is being redesignated and sold off along with Heath Lodge, which sits in the park and is set to be auctioned imminently.
The emails, which are partially redacted, also appear to suggest reneging on an earlier commitment to reinvest 25 per cent of the sale of the lodge on much needed park infrastructure and spend it on ‘other open spaces and community facilities.’
In an email dated July 18 from Stephen Wingrave, Head of the council Asset Management and Estates to Cllr Simon Hall, cabinet member for finance and resources it states: “In order to dispose of the property it will be necessary to gain planning consent and also advertise the proposed disposal in the local paper as it will effectively be a sale of public open space.”
The neglected lodge which has been unoccupied since 2011 has been vandalised, broken into, the windows smashed and is a frequent target of organised fly tippers (see picture of dumped builders waste).
Despite repeated complaints and promises to properly secure the building and its grounds, as recently as in the last month the metal security door was open and it was possible to walk in. In its current state not only is it a magnet for ASB but poses a danger as many of the floorboards are missing inside.
Amongst the FOI emails from May, written by an Assets and Estates Manager, whose name is redacted along with the recipients, it says that a restrictive covenant can be put on the building so it stays residential but that there is “nothing to stop” the new owners demolishing it.
The unnamed officer asks the redacted recipient: “What is your proposal for handling the communications side of this? Given that it’s been something that has been rumbling on for years, including interest from the press active Friends Group, we’d need to ensure it (sic) handled carefully.”
In another email: “We just need to agree what is ‘Heath Lodge land” and what is ‘park land’ and decide whether we are disposing of part of the park for garden and if so, we will need to go through the process and advertise……..”
“XXXX and I have discussed this and are happy with your proposal for the boundary of Heath Lodge Land. By including the triangular piece of land on the Western edge of the lodge. I believe that we avoid the issue of granting a right of way.”
The council had originally planned to auction the lodge in 2017 for in excess of £360,000 but once this was publicised shelved the sale and instead pursued a plan to transform the abandoned building in to four supported living units for people with autism, and combine this with a social enterprise café.
In 2018 the council’s Infrastructure Delivery Plan earmarked £300,000 towards the project from Section 106 contributions.
The lodge which falls under the remit of housing rather than the park’s department and is located next to an area identified, by London Wildlife Trust’s Great Northwood project, as being ancient woodland.
The Friends of Grangewood Park were invited to a meeting by Mark Meehan, Director of Residents and Gateway which was attended by architect Jula Pitt and showed a preliminary design.
When Mr Meehan left the council for a new job his replacement Hazel Simons Executive Director – Gateway, Strategy and Engagement told the FoGP: “I have now had an opportunity to look at the architects drawings which were very impressive but, would cost in excess of £1m to carry out the work. Unfortunately the council does not have the funding to carry out those works. I realise that this is disappointing. “As soon as we have taken a decision on the property and the provision of community space I will ask officers to contact you.”
The Friends have officially received no further contact but Cllr Oliver Lewis, cabinet member for parks and local councillors were briefed.
According to the FOI the council has been in regular contact with auctioneers BidX1 and discussed including the lodge for sale at auction in July and September, although the anticipated sale price was redacted, the report states:“The property requires a complete rennovation,…..you could easily spend £1000,000 putting the property back into good order.”
In June a local councillor, posted on Facebook the details of a planning application for change of use, back to a residential dwelling C3 which was approved.
The park has suffered from decades of underinvestment. The playground which was partially dismantled by the council in October 2018 because it was dangerous was earmarked for £100,000 funding. Work was meant to start in the summer but with little explanation keeps being put back. The basket ball court which has just one hoop has been locked up because of the dangerous state of the tarmac.
PICTURE CREDIT (for tree scene): @guillaumephotos