AGM Chair’s Annual Report 2024

Annual Report 2023-2024

Summing up SPRA’s past year, it is necessary once again to recap the local context, in particular the Council’s financial position which has continued to adversely affect services.  Croydon’s finances have stabilised over the past year with the Council demonstrating its ability to hold to a budget.  It has set a balanced budget for 2024-2025 and the Council tax, as promised, has risen by no more than 4.9%.

Despite budgets being very tight, it has been noticeable that the most visual indicators of Council provision have seen an improvement (albeit from a very low level) – verge cutting, filling of potholes for example.  But this is long financial road to recovery for the Council, and like other local authorities, Croydon is struggling to provide any more than the statutory services.

But this report is about SPRA’s year- so what has the Association done to ameliorate local conditions for our members?  The most important is to interrogate our local politicians about local issues, so that they know what matters to Spring Park.  Last year’s AGM heard from the Croydon Mayor Jason Perry about the challenges of his first year in office, supplemented by talks from our Ward Councillors and also from our MP and London Assembly member.  In addition, we have regular quarterly meetings with our local councillors and we take your concerns directly to them.  All our meetings are documented in SPAN and on our website.

The most pressing matter for many of our members as I write is the possibility of the closure of Shirley Library.  This is part of the proposals put forward for a remodelled Library service in Croydon, resulting in four branch libraries closing, with others being restored to full or near full-time opening.  SPRA has examined the consultancy report giving rise to the plans and understands the rationale for closure.  At the same time, it is mindful of the importance of a local library and the value to the local community of having a local community building, which currently houses the library.  So after deliberation the Committee decided that it should remain neutral on the issue.  Further, it would encourage member participation in the consultation, and to also act in an enabling role with individuals who may wish to work to keep the library.

Meanwhile, the traditional ‘staple’ of Resident Associations, namely Planning, has undergone a relatively stable year.  Many residents are developing their properties with side and rear extensions which the Association for the most part, finds no reason to object.  The Council’s Planning department has in the last year undergone a number of changes, making their procedures more effective and streamlined, with drastically reduced delays.  Proposals for unsightly and inappropriate developments in our area have been few and far between and across Croydon more such plans have been refused than previously.  We look forward in the new year to see further improvements as Croydon has just won a large Government grant for further updating of its systems.

We continue to monitor our Highways, remaining active through the Council to improve them when appropriate.  Despite the slight improvement noted above in repairs and maintenance, there still seem to be a large number of floods after heavy rain. This could be attributable to higher rainfall (climate change?) but also the failure to regularly clear the gullies and gutters.  We should also never forget we live in an area called Spring Park for a reason (with its high water-table).

Sadly we still await the replacement of the bus shelters which were removed more than a year ago.  This small deterioration to our urban environment, insignificant for many but important particularly for the frail and elderly, is a matter on which SPRA is still pressing the Council.

The local road network has seen a fairly dramatic change with the introduction of the extended ULEZ area, designed by the London Mayor to reduce pollution from older vehicles and thus encourage more environmentally friendly forms of transport and to use public transport.  It met with considerabIe opposition from many when launched last August, prompting changes and mitigations to the scheme.  It is too soon to say whether the aims of the scheme are being met. A 20mph speed limit was introduced on the Wickham Road through neighbouring West Wickham and we are told to expect this to be extended to our stretch of the A232 in the future.  As these are London Assembly matters, we will watch closely the results of the London Mayoral election in May.

Finally on transportation, we now have a new express bus service, the Superloop5 (SL5) running between Croydon and Bromley.  This seems to be successful and popular for local travel, and links with other Superloop services which connects major centres around London.  In so doing it extends the scope of public transport for us all, making more destinations accessible, more quickly – certainly a positive development.

Moving to the Green Environment, the picture is mixed.  On the positive side, this year we have been watching the roadside trees thrive which were planted in the autumn of 2022.  SPRA’s survey of empty tree pits enabled the planting of well over 50 trees.  Thanks to all those who helped with the survey and for Mike Roberts with co-ordinating it.  As mentioned earlier, better attention by the Council to cutting the verges and public grass areas has been appreciated.  The complete refurbishment of the tennis Courts at the Recreation Ground, with some Council funds and a large external grant is very welcome.  SPRA monthly volunteer litter-pick workforce (led by Michael Wilson) is well supported by the Council.  On the downside, any financial help from Croydon to support the Friends groups looking after Millers Pond and Spring Park Wood has evaporated, and basic maintenance (grass cutting in Millers Pond, and help for the Bowls Club for example) is now minimal.  Whilst SPRA understands the straitened circumstances of the Council, it puts a huge strain on the goodwill and resources of a volunteer workforce, which surely must have a breaking point.

SPRA uses its own financial reserves to make donations to needy organisations like those mentioned above.  In the past year an Association donation has helped to repair part of the damaged footway around Millers Pond and more recently to purchase new signboards for the Friends of Millers Pond.  The Shrublands Foodbank has also been a beneficiary.

The Association always seeks to improve the positive feeling of community.  In December 2022 we brought back Christmas lights to our High Street.  Unfortunately, due to some technical and logistical issues, this was not possible over the festive period in 2023-2024.  But we are working hard to have them reinstated for the coming season.  As usual we erected poppies along Wickham Road on the occasion of Remembrance Day.  SPRA was delighted to be involved at the long-awaited return of the Millers Pond Fair.  It was great to welcome everyone to our stand to enjoy the quizzes, balloons and other giveaways.  An appearance was also made at the West Wickham Village Day, though this was less effective.

For many, SPRA means SPAN.  Our colourful 64-page monthly magazine not only covers Association matters but also offers a comprehensive gazetteer of all the activities that go on in the area.  In addition, there are articles of general local interest, for example local walks and historical pieces, which our readers tell us they enjoy.  Other content includes letters, quizzes, a reader ‘noticeboard’, and many other regular features.  All this requires the energies of a small group of editorial volunteers (led ably by Liz Bebington) and an army of Road Stewards and support people who ensure the magazine gets to your door.

And if you are meandering along our streets you will come across our SPRA noticeboards including the new board at the bottom of Bridle Way which keep passers-by informed of key community events.

2024 sadly saw the loss of one of its previous Chairmen.  Bill Yates served SPRA’s Committee as a member and then as Chairman for a 10-year spell ending in 1997.  Then as now there is a small army of people who work on the SPRA committee and on SPAN -but it is small!  Currently Its resources are stretched, even before it is called upon by its members to engage with issues such as the possible Library closure or fundraising for the Christmas lights.  Put simply, we require more people to get involved in maintaining a thriving Residents’ Association.  When recently researching the SPAN Archive, I came across a reference in a past Chairman’s Annual Report some 40 years ago which talked about the DIMs in the neighbourhood.  He commented: ‘You will all be familiar with the term NIMBY, but I would like to draw your attention to the DIMs around us.’  These are the people who have lots of views about how things should be done, but look the other way when help is asked for to move things forward or improve our community.  The DIMS he referred to are the ‘Don’t Involve Me’ brigade.  Now, as then, we urgently need to convert more of these people to the SPRA cause.

I hope as we look forward to the year ahead, SPRA can rely on your support.  Please consider whether you can become more involved, even in a small way, with our work supporting the community.

Geoff Flook