The shelving of flood protection measures by Croydon Council in order to cut costs following its declaration of bankruptcy, has fuelled accusations by Conservatives of mismanagement.
Projects designed to protect local people from the damaging effects of flooding were due to start in the coming weeks, but will no longer go ahead. This is the first area to be affected by tighter spending.
Conservative Helen Redfern, shadow cabinet member for Clean Green Croydon, laid blame on the Labour controlled council for absorbing the flood prevention funds into general expenditure “in order to help plug their giant financial deficit.”
Councillor Muhammad Ali, a Labour councillor for Broad Green responded: “We recognise the need for effective and efficient drainage across our network. We are aware of the flooding issue and have done an investigatory work under our flood alleviation plan. Due to the Section 114 notice all spending is being reviewed and a decision will be made under that review process.”
Ali told ELL that Croydon is still covered in the event of a serious weather event: “In the meantime, under our emergency response plan, we will respond to any flooding incident in the borough.”
Under the Section 114 procedures last Wednesday, the council is only permitted to spend on a pre-defined list of expenditures which excludes scheduled flood prevention work. The restrictions are to last 21 days until a new budget is proposed.
Croydon has previously experienced severe flooding, most recently in 2014 and 2016. The storms disrupted railways, submerged roads, and in one instance, required pedestrian tunnels and car parks to double as overflow reservoirs for rainwater. A less substantial storm caused minor damage on Sunday.
Across the country, COVID-19 and years of austerity have taken a toll on council budgets, but Councillor Redfern thinks Croydon’s clogged storm drains and chronic flooding are a problem of budget priorities: “It’s a neglect of general maintenance as well.”
“They bought an overpriced hotel [,] the retail park on Purley Way at a time when retail and leisure was having difficulty, and other various buildings that were supposed to yield and never did,” she said.
Council leader Hamida Ali, who was recently elected after a Public Interest report forced the resignation of her predecessor, has vowed to change the culture of the council. “We are publicly accepting the seriousness of our financial position,” she wrote in a statement to her constituents.
Depending on the arrival of a central government bailout or the council’s own re-organisation of finances after the 21-day deliberation period, funding could be restored to flood protection services.