Stop talking, Sir Humphrey – do something! By David Callam
14th August 2008
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Stop talking, Sir Humphrey - do something!

IT MUST be 15 years since I was a guest on a Croydon Council charabanc trip - I accompanied a party of Coulsdon sceptics on a jaunt to Cambridge and Guildford.

The council's charm offensive was an attempt to neutralise vociferous opposition to its plans for a Science Park on the site of the former Cane Hill Hospital.

Officers waxed lyrical about hi-tech buildings that would become important centres of research and development for major international companies.

There would be close links - electronic and otherwise - with prestigious universities and jobs for the borough's brightest graduates.

Green belt restrictions would confine building to the footprint of the former hospital, or the equivalent in square metres, so low-rise cathedrals of academe would nestle in serene parkland settings.

The science parks of Cambridge and Guildford, with their rolling lawns and water features, were tangible proof that such places existed. If it worked there, officers argued, it could do so equally well in the outermost reaches of south London.

Sadly all those aspirations remain just that, while the site continues as a Mecca for the neighbourhood's dog-walkers and arsonists.

Central government proved to be the biggest fly in the ointment - it took some years for civil servants to clarify precisely which department owned the site, let alone whether Whitehall was ready to sell.

A recent press report says the long-since dilapidated buildings will finally be knocked down next year - although discussions continue about retaining some of them. But there is no mention of any precise plans for the site's future.

This is a tragic example of the damage that Sir Humphrey and his municipal mates can do to a local economy when they act in concert.

The green belt restrictions are nonsense in this case - the site is prime residential building land in an area where there is considerable demand for new homes.

Cane Hill is well served by public transport, with buses passing the main entrance and a railway station opposite - an ideal location for people with jobs in Croydon or central London.

There is a good secondary shopping centre close at hand and a range of schools that could easily be augmented if necessary.

It is ridiculous that it has already taken the public sector so long to accomplish the simple task of disposing of this land for the general good.

Croydon Eye is a weekly commentary written exclusively for The Best of Croydon by David Callam and posted in the blog section every Thursday.

David Callam is a freelance journalist and the former business editor of The Croydon Advertiser. For more examples of his work and to see what he could do for your business please visit

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