Veteran Croydon politician Andrew Pelling has announced he is standing as the Lib Dem candidate for the upcoming Park Hill and Whitgift by-election on May 2.

Pelling’s candidacy means he has now represented all three major parties at some level in the borough. 

The former Croydon Central MP’s standing also caps off the list of announced candidates for the by-election, triggered following Conservative councillor Jade Appleton’s resignation last month.

In her resignation letter, Appleton cited ‘a change in work commitments’ as the reason that she could no longer fulfil her duties as a councillor. 

After 40 years in politics, the local democracy reporting service (LDRS) caught up with Pelling to discuss his changing political allegiance, potholes and the biggest issues facing the borough.

The Lib Dems have a marginal presence on the Council, with Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood’s Claire Bonham being their sole ward councillor.

When asked why he wants to join them, Pelling responded: “I believe Labour needs replacing as the progressive choice in Croydon.

“One of the problems with there just being one member is that Croydon does not treat the Lib Dems as a group, therefore the Lib Dems are not able to move a motion at Council. If you have two you have better treatment at the Council in terms of being able to express a view.”

This quirk of Council politics was seen in practice earlier this year when Claire Bonham was barred from bringing an amendment to the Conservative group’s controversial budget, unlike her Green and Labour colleagues.

Pelling added: “Croydon politics is very different now because of what has happened with Croydon Labour over recent years.

"They continue to exhibit poor governance, especially after what we have seen following the selection in Croydon East. 

“There is also a long history of compromised governance, as we’ve seen from what happened in the Penn report on bankrupting the council.”

Unsurprisingly, Croydon’s finances came up as a key issue for Pelling. While running to be Croydon Mayor in 2022, his last electoral outing, Pelling repeatedly focused on the borough’s numerous bankruptcies under the then Labour Council.

Pelling told the LDRS: “The biggest concern is sorting out the Council’s finances. Even the mayor accepts that the financial position is untenable.

“That has an impact in terms of services that are provided. That particularly comes to people’s door when they have a social services need.

“That happens to everyone regardless of the prosperity they might have. Obviously, Park Hill and Whitgift does exhibit quite a lot of prosperity, but for everyone in the end you need that quality of service.

“There is a concern about the 21% increase in council tax we have had over the past two years in return for fewer services. That is not in line with what the Mayor’s calls to fix the finances.”

Pelling first entered Croydon’s political scene as a Conservative candidate for Broad Green in the 1982 election, which he subsequently won. He later went on to represent the Croydon Central constituency from 2005 to 2010.

He has served as a Conservative member of the London Assembly from 2000 to 2005. He also stood in elections as an independent and later with the Labour Party before his expulsion in February 2022.

Pelling has previously told the LDRS that his expulsion as a Labour councillor was due to his calling for the then leader of the Labour Council, Hamida Ali, to resign over the controversial Fairfield Halls redevelopment. 

When asked what people should make of his varied political journey, Pelling said: “Well I think voters move from one party to another. 

“The Conservatives have moved well away from the centre ground, one nation party that I was in. The way in which they exhibit an appalling intolerance towards some communities makes me very uncomfortable.”

Whilst reflecting on his career, Pelling acknowledged the undeniable influence national politics can have on local politics.

Pelling said: “In 1982 I was a Conservative candidate and it was the time of the SDP, so everyone thought the Conservatives and residents groups were going to be out. Then the Falklands happened. 

“It does go to show that sometimes local elections are driven by national results. To some extent, therefore, I think there will be other factors in this election. 

“For example people’s unhappiness with the national Conservative government and issues surrounding Gaza and peace in the Middle East. This is the case with most voters but particularly Muslim voters, who are very concerned about where they should go and are disappointed with Labour’s attitude.”

Outside of his political experience, Pelling was also keen to express his familiarity with the Park Hill and Whitgift ward, having lived within its boundaries on two separate occasions. He is contesting the borough’s only single councillor ward, which represents around 4000 residents in the largely affluent and leafy area just west of the town centre.

Pelling told the LDRS: “It is quite a hard job to succeed Jade Appleton, who was extremely well-liked in the ward and was a really good councillor. When I was running for mayor at the hustings in Park Hill I encouraged people to vote for her.

“However, there are things that need doing in the ward. We will support the resident’s associations and the parks groups there. There is quite a good social infrastructure in that respect however, it is important to protect Whitgift and Park Hill’s character.”

Pelling acknowledged homelessness in Lloyd Park as an issue he was keen to tackle. He said: “It’s really sad, you see people tented up in the woods and I think the Council has to help those people.”

Pelling spoke of reviving the now-defunct Lloyd Park Bowls Club as a new community garden outside of homes and homelessness.

He also proposed supporting zebra crossings on Park Hill Road, but admitted “I’m sure that will not go down well.”

Pelling also spoke of his concern for the residents of Coombe who he feels are neglected due to their location on the fringes of the ward. He told the LDRS: “A lot of the roads up there are badly potholed and a lot of the residents up there feel forgotten because they’re in the corner of the ward.”

Following the announcement of Pelling’s candidacy, Peter Ladanyi, Chair of Croydon Liberal Democrats, said: “I am delighted that Andrew will be standing for the Liberal Democrats. His years of experience, as a former resident in the ward and as its Assembly Member and MP, make him uniquely qualified for this role.”

The other confirmed candidates for the Park Hill by-election include:

James Cork (Green Party)

Melanie Dorothea Felten (Labour)

Ben Goldstone (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition)

Andrew Robert Prince (Local Conservatives)

Mark Robin Lionel Samuel (Independent)