A further Freedom of Information request has revealed a cynical plot by senior council officials to sell off the lodge in Grangewood Park and spend the proceeds anywhere but the park.
Documents seen by The Chronicle reveal that Heath Lodge was transferred In 2013 when it had been vacant for about two years from the General Fund to the Housing Revenue Account as the three bedroom house was considered suitable by the housing team for social housing at the agreed market value of £280,000.
Once transferred the ‘responsibility of management, repairs and maintenance obligations will rest with the Housing Team’ reveals the transfer document.
The building was never occupied instead it was neglected vandalised, broken into, the windows smashed and is a frequent target of organised fly tippers.
Last month The Chronicle revealed that Croydon Council had admitted in a series of emails revealed by another FOI request that it is selling off ‘public open space’ in the Park.
The 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 in early next year. The emails, appeared 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.’
Emails not included in the original FOI release show a more detailed exchange between Active Lifestyles, the department that is responsible for parks and the council’s assets department.
From August 2, 2019: “(Name redacted) was interested in the funding going to parks beyond Grangewood (probably in TH)- do you think from conversations this might be the way in which to frame the funding and that its ward based rather than park-specific?
Same date:”Response from Simon (Hall – cabinet member for finance) regarding the Lodge. Given the feedback from ward councillors. I think this will probably be wider than just the park but could be general community facilities within the ward.”
October 22, 2019: “Ok, it will be the wider area but I will confirm once spoken to Cllr Hall.”
Same date: ”We just need to doubly clarify that the funds are definitely going to the wider parks area (is it parks, or the wider area) and then I can do the advert, instruct the solicitors and instruct the auction house.”
In a email on October 21 the correspondent admits:“We have not been in contact with them (the Friends Group) at all about developments with the Lodge.”
The FoGP has still had NO official contact regarding the future of the lodge.
In 2017 Pedder and Scampton Architects were commissioned by Mark Meehan, Director of Residents and Gateway to provide a feasibility study which resulted in four options including converting the lodge in to a studio flats with shared living space and annexe providing community shared activities and training facilities. The cost of the options ranged from £500,000 to £1.3million.
These architects plans were shown to the FoGP and included a community cafe and housing for young adults with autism.
The documents note: ”The exterior is idiosyncratic and a local landmark and repairs will need to be carefully specified to avoid compromising the visual quality of the building.”
When Mr Meehan left the council for another job the council decided to auction the lodge with a reserve price of £350,000 though with plans to auction it again in January/February it has been appraised at a more realistic £325,000 .
In a report dated Hazel Simmonds, Executive Director – Gateway, Strategy and Engagement outlines that while the lodge which was built in 1880 is not statutorily listed it is however set in a locally listed historic park.
She provides a series of options for the lodge: demolish, refurbish in to a community building like Ashburton Park or options for building houses. One option is for it to be community managed giving the building to a charity such as Friends of Grangewood Park on a long lease and allow them to crowd fund. She suggests the council would match monies raised which would be used to refurbish the building. However, the final option disposal was chosen.
The FoGP are taking legal advice about the future of the lodge.