Yesterday evening (3 September), I joined residents to hand in a petition with over 20,000 signatures to trigger a referendum in Croydon for a Directly Elected Mayor. This is a legally binding process under local democracy laws. The Council has to hold the referendum if a valid petition is received with over 14,000 signatures.
The petition campaign has been running for over a year and I would like to thank everyone who signed the petition and helped organise it. It was arranged by a group of local Residents Associations (see www.democ.org.uk) from across the Borough who are fed up with the fact the council does not listen to us. The council is currently run by a Leader and an unaccountable clique, selected behind closed doors in a smoke filled room by a small number of councillors from the ruling group. The Leader duly rewarded his supporters with lucrative paid council “cabinet” positions. Croydon’s unusual electoral geography means that the ruling group only has to listen to people in a small number of marginal Wards (or areas) to win control of the Council – they then just contemptuously ignore the rest of us. A Directly Elected Mayor would replace the existing Leader – but critically would be elected directly by the whole public, whose votes would count equally. A Directly Elected Mayor would have to listen to everyone across the whole Borough, in a way the current Leader and his arrogant ruling clique simply do not. The DEM proposal has also attracted cross-party support – although needless to say, not from the current Leader and his acolytes.
Residents’ anger (and mine) has been particularly triggered by the council’s eagerness to concrete over almost every inch of green space in the Borough – as evidenced by the fact the planning committee (the majority of which is effectively appointed by the Leader) passes almost every application that comes before it. The Leader controls the critical Local Plan – the new draft of which threatens the green belt, proposes the destruction of even more family homes and wants to turn Purley into a small city. The Leader also controls the council’s 100% owned development company Brick by Brick – the most destructive property developer in Croydon. Not only is Brick by Brick destroying green space in the Borough, it is doing so with our own taxpayers’ money – and to add insult to injury is making a loss at the same time. A Directly Elected Mayor replacing the Leader could stop all this.
The current unaccountable Leader has also taken the council to the financial brink with reckless financial mismanagement. Besides setting up a loss-making and destructive property development subsidiary, he has spent £30m of public money on a hotel that then went bust, spent £53m of public money on a secondary shopping centre whose value has crashed, run the reserves down to a dangerously low level, run up by far the biggest debt of any London council – over £1.5 billion – and failed to deliver the Westfield development in the town centre, which first got planning consent back in 2014. This was all long before Coronavirus hit, and Croydon is the only London council to be on financial brink in this way.
20,000 residents think, and I agree, that a Directly Elected Executive Mayor chosen by the public would be directly accountable in a way the current Leader is not. Most people don’t know who the current Leader even is – but he and his small clique are in the process of destroying our Borough. It is heart breaking to watch. But it can be stopped.
Now that the petition has been handed in we would like the referendum triggered by it to be held on Thursday 6th May 2021, the same day as the London Mayoral election. This will save money, given there is already an election on that day.
I will keep you posted both on the parlous state of Croydon Council’s finances as more news emerges, and with news about the Referendum as soon as I hear from council officials.