After an eight-year period of Conservative control, the Labour Party secured a ten-seat majority in Croydon’s local council elections in 2014.
With boundary changes now in effect, there are many reasons to keep an eye on the contest in Croydon.
Croydon is made up of 24 wards over 87 square kilometres, returning 70 councillors.
The borough is spread over three parliamentary constituencies, covering Croydon North, Croydon Central and Croydon South. North and Central both have Labour MPs (Steve Reed and Sarah Jones respectively), while South is represented by Conservative Chris Philp.
The council seats as elected in 2014 broadly reflect this split, with the south of the borough mostly Tory-dominated, Labour holding most of its wards in the north. (see below).
In the 2014 election, Labour saw its vote share rise by 4.1%, securing 36% of the vote and 40 of Croydon’s 70 council seats by gaining all the seats in Ashburton and Waddon wards and securing the one seat held by the Conservatives in New Addington ward.
Conversely, the Tories’ dipped 3.4% as they lost control of the council, with a 33.4% vote share, while UKIP saw a dramatic surge in 2014, and took the Lib Dems place as third party in Croydon.
Councillor Tony Newman has led the council for Labour since their 2014 victory, when Labour secured 40 seats to the Tories’ 30.
This dropped to 39, after Labour’s deputy cabinet member for communities Matthew Kyeremeh (Thornton Heath ward) was sacked by Cllrr Newman for “serious financial misconduct”, and the Tories lost their deputy leader Sara Bashford (Selsdon and Ballards) to a new job in the Cabinet Office last year.
This will be the first local election in Croydon contested for a new set of wards, after boundary changes made at the end of last year.
According to Croydon Council, the Local Government Boundary Commission made the changes to ensure that each councillor represented a similar number of constituents.
The housing crisis and means by which to tackle it are set to be hotly debated across London in 2018 by all parties, and Croydon is no different.
One of the biggest disagreements between the parties revolves around the management of Brick by Brick (BxB), a private property development company established in 2016, with the council acting as sole shareholder. BxB’s goal is to deliver 1000 new homes by 2019, with 50% of those homes classified as ‘affordable.’
However, one of the Tories’ key manifesto pledges is to use emergency powers to pause and review BxB’s development schemes, claiming that residents have not been sufficiently consulted.
Cllr Tony Newman, Labour’s leader of the council, said: “Croydon, like the rest of London, is, for many people, facing a housing crisis. Many, many people, young people under 35, perhaps even 40 now, are struggling to afford a place of their own.
“It’s very important that the council plays its part, but it can be no more than that, in making sure we do what we can to increase the supply of homes and genuinely affordable homes in Croydon.”
Cllr Tim Pollard, leader of Croydon’s Conservative group seeking re-election in Sanderstead ward, said: “There are too many of [BxB’s] schemes where they haven’t taken the community along with them. They’re doing stuff to the community, not doing stuff with the community.
“We’re in severe danger of becoming a place that people can move to for two or three years, then they have to move out again because they can’t then find the next step in the process.”
The argument around BxB revolves around its rapid progress; on the flipside, the stalling of other developments such as the new Westfield shopping centre and the delayed opening of Fairfield Halls could also be areas in which Labour could be vulnerable to criticism from opposition parties.
Former bomb disposal army Major Richard Howard, a Lib Dem candidate for Old Coulsdon ward, said: “I’ve got four children myself, and I want them to grow up in a London where they’re able to afford to rent a property, be able to buy their own house, but the right decisions have got to be made in the right way.”
Major Howard hopes that the Lib Dems can reposition themselves as a moderating third voice on the council, preventing what he views as increased polarisation between the two main parties and ensuring cross-party consensus on important issues like violent crime.
Amidst widespread concern after London saw an uptick in its crime rate in recent months, there is more broad agreement across all parties on the need to tackle violent crime on Croydon’s streets.
Cllr Newman said: “We’re working very closely with the police around the immediate issues in terms of gangs, and I very much share the police’s view that we do need to see increased resources for the police and an end to police cuts.
“In terms of a longer-term prevention agenda, we need to be preventing future generations getting caught up in the cycle of violent crime. That’s why I’m very proud of the council’s ‘Choose your Future’ campaign, which is engaging young people both in terms of job training and employment opportunities.”
Cllr Pollard said: “Everything is kind of related, isn’t it? When people aren’t particularly proud of their community, they don’t behave as well, and they therefore get sucked into forms of criminality. We need to treat the underpinning causes of violence. We’ve tried various means of treating it as a criminal issue, and it hasn’t really made any difference.
“I’m not saying that stop and search is not from time to time a good thing – there are two things that lead to somebody with a knife sticking out of them, and one of those is that somebody was carrying it in the first place. The other is that they were unable to find ways to resolve the situation other than violence.”
Major Howard sees the issue as a tactical one of police deployment: “Safer Neighbourhoods Teams now, there’s just no local bases for them to operate out of – some of them are up to an hour away, because of the scale of the closures.
“One of the big things that we would do is try to re-establish some of the local patrol bases to allow Safer Neighbourhoods Teams to actually be in the community and show a visible presence, and just know what’s happening.
WHAT THEY SAID
Tony Newman: “I would be the first to say that we’ve made some significant progress, but there’s a lot more to do. I would urge the people of Croydon to reflect that a Labour council over the next four years would want to finish and complete that job. We don’t want to see Croydon go back to where it was four years ago.”
Tim Pollard: “I honestly believe that the Conservatives are more pragmatic. That doesn’t sound very sexy, but I believe we deliver more for people. What people tend to say about the Conservatives is that we don’t care about people. A demonstrator once shouted at me, ‘You Tories, you hate the poor.’ And I said, ‘No, no, we don’t. We hate people being poor. There’s a difference.’ We actually think people’s quality of life is important, and want people to have a stake in society.”
Richard Howard: “One thing we’ve learnt over the past couple of years is how to be an influence even when we’re either not in government or in government as part of a coalition. The problem with the council at the moment is that it’s been Labour and Conservative only for the last twelve years, and what you get is a real partisan dingdong battle between them. When there’s another party in there, I believe what we’re able to do is to provide another voice to be able to make people listen.”
South West Londoner will be providing live updates and all the latest news and reactions from all 11 counts across the area on May 3. Visit our website or Twitter for live coverage throughout the night.