A NORWOOD councillor has lodged a formal complaint over the removal of lampposts in Mowbray Road where ‘huggers’ found themselves face to face with police after spurious claims of ‘harassment’ by workmen.
Cllr Wayne Lawlor, in a scathing response to an email from Croydon’s head of highways and parking services Mr Steve Iles, says: “Residents and local councillors views do not count for anything at all. “Croydon council needs to get back to the basics and start serving this area and residents, not imposing unwanted change just because a contractor has tied this council up in financial knots.
“Croydon council is not here to be served by residents but to serve residents” says Cllr Lawlor, (Lab. South Norwood). “That ethos seems to be missing in this policy. “That this work has just gone ahead without a response to my query is deeply concerning.
His comments come in the wake of the ‘lamppost huggers’ incident in Mowbray Road (see our story: WORKMEN BLOW A FUSE OVER LAMPPOST HUGGERS – Police called to Mowbray Road amid ‘harassment’ claims dated July 4th) dubbed ”Send in the Light Brigade” by the London Evening Standard.
“Local residents have chained themselves to lampposts to stop these historic features being removed from their area. “This shows the strength of feeling.
“I am quite stunned that Croydon council feels that any dialogue would be pointless because the PFI (private finance initiative) doesn’t permit any flexibility over the contract. “These contracts and projects are tax-payer funded by the same residents whom this council now seeks to disenfranchise.
“It has taken nine weeks for a response, and in the meantime works have gone ahead. “I would like this to be investigated as part of a formal complaint. “Communication on this issue has been appalling both with councillors and residents. “I know that local residents will also be making complaints on the matter.” (Mr Iles’ responses can be found later in this article).
EMAIL FROM NORWOOD SOCIETY’S PLANNING COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN
Cllr Lawlor’s comments come in the wake of a letter from Philip Goddard, chairman of the Norwood Society’s planning committee, to Mark Richardson,Mowbray Road resident and lamppost hugger.
Mr Goddard tells Mr Richardson: “There is no such entity as a ‘street light conservation area’. “What has happened is that Croydon council have decided to replace all the street lights, with some exceptions, partly to improve the lighting and partly because they can make a lot of money out of selling the old ones for scrap, given the current prices of scrap metal.
“Naturally, they have gone to town on the former motive and kept very quiet over the latter. “It seems that all lighting outside conservation areas is to be replaced,regardless of the harmony and elegance which the older columns may contribute to the street in which they stand, with new columns which may or may not be appropriate to the particular street. “It is clear from
correspondence that they will brook absolutely no exceptions whatever to this.
“The present administration is not conservation minded; one councillor from the majority group recently expressed his opposition to the whole concept of conservation areas, on the grounds that they were a hindrance to large scale redevelopment (which of course is exactly what they are designed to be).
“Conservation areas have been divided up street by street, with the old lighting to be retained in some streets and replaced in others (hence the totally inappropriate term “street light conservation area”, referring to those streets in the conservation area where the older columns are to be retained). “You have asked by reference to what criteria the council has
divided the conservation areas up but I doubt whether you will be told, given the attitude of the present administration.
“So far as Skanska is concerned their function is to make money for their shareholders, not preserve Croydon’s heritage, which is the job of Croydon council. “In short, they will do whatever the latter requires as long as they get paid for it. “A contract between Croydon and Skanska will already have been signed and neither side will be prepared to renegotiate its terms merely because those of us who live in Croydon don’t like them.
“What a bizarre notion; anybody would think we were living in a democracy! “Personally I think this is already a lost cause, but if you feel there is anything more that can be done do share your thoughts.”
EXCHANGE OF EMAILS BETWEEN CLLR LAWLOR AND MR ILES
Mr Iles’ email dated July 5th reads as follows:
Firstly my apologies for the delay in responding to you I thought this response had been sent, for ease I have responded to your questions at the end of each question.
I do understand the points that you have raised in your e-mail. I suggest that comments in the body of your own e-mail reflect the situation at Mowbray Road, “accommodate local character where it has been identified as either an historic asset or an area where an increased specification is required.”
Answer:- As previously stated the financing of the PFI contract does provide limited opportunity to vary the specification in certain specific circumstances accommodate local character where it has been identified as either an historic asset or an area where an increased specification is justified. Mowbray Rd is not a designated conservation area and for the purposes of the PFI it is not identified as an area that justifies or requires an increased lighting specification. It is I unlikely that the existing street lighting stock in Mowbray Rd pre-dates the 1940’s and is therefore not representative of the wider Victorian character of the area.
Given the strength of feeling on what is a major project, I would be grateful if you would consider public meeting of Mowbray Road residents to listen to their views. I would also be grateful if you could outline what consultation has taken place with residents of Mowbray Road.
Answer:- Further additional dialogue via a public meeting to listen to the views of Mowbray Road residents would not be able to exert any influence or alteration of the contractual arrangements and financial limitations of the Street Lighting PFI, and therefore I believe would serve little purpose and may inadvertently raise expectations.
The Councils Street Lighting PFI was agreed by cabinet at its meeting of December 2010. With regard to local character and historic assets, the council carried out a Conservation Area review in 2007-8 which underwent an extensive consultation process involving local residents associations leading to the designation of nine new conservation areas.
Whilst the Church Road Conservation Area was extended as a part of this review it did not extend into the adjacent Mowbray Rd (other than to include No’ 2 Mowbray Rd at its eastern edge). The 16 Places of Croydon were developed as a part of the Core Strategy (Croydon Local Plan) and based on a detailed analysis of local and residential character of the borough, this underwent extensive statutory public consultation during the period 2009-2012.
I would point out that ‘standard solutions’ do not necessarily enhance the character of an area, indeed I have seen many planning applications refused on those grounds.
Answer:- The primary objective of the street lighting PFI project is to provide improvement to lighting within the borough from a technical performance (lighting level & distribution) and energy efficiency perspectives. When the scope and extent of opportunity contained within the PFI was investigated and developed in 2008?, it was agreed that the boroughs statutory designated conservation areas, district centres and the metropolitan centre would be the only areas where a variation to the specification would be accommodated. It was not possible to accommodate additional areas due to the financial limitations contained within the PFI contract. Street lighting does not require planning permission to be installed as its provision is covered under the Highways Act. For ease I have copied the link to the council’s website which provides a copy of the “street lighting project document” which was agreed by the Department of Transport http://www.croydon.gov.uk/transportandstreets/rhps/street-lighting/
In relation to your comments, and I quote “It is important to understand that the street lighting stock is old and in the majority of case is approaching the end of its life“. I can understand that argument, but would question why we are not looking at replacing the Victorian style poles in Mowbray Road, like for like? I wonder what maintenance would be required on the existing lights? I would be grateful for further information, please.
Answer:- the standardisation of the street lighting stock delivers greater efficiencies for future maintenance costs as the suppliers only need to keep a limited stock, this combined with the standard column and lantern being cheaper per unit item than an enhanced street light. In terms of whether we could retain the existing street lighting and maintain them, unfortunately as I mentioned the vast majority of columns around the borough are approaching the end of their life, these means the columns are weakening in structural integrity and therefore are at greater risk of falling over and this is a risk we are unable to take.
I hope this addresses your questions and again my apologies for the delay in responding to you. Regards Steve Iles