Council lawyers have concluded that a referendum to decide if Croydon should switch to a directly-elected Mayor system of local government will not be able to be held until after May next year, the council’s leader Tony Newman has said.
Campaigners for the referendum, who say they have raised a petition with enough signatures of local electors to make holding a referendum a legal requirement, want it take place on 6 May 2021, which is the first date on which such a vote would be permitted under emergency Covid-19 legislation and accompanying election rules.
However, in the course of an interview with On London conducted at Croydon Town Hall last Friday morning, Newman said he had just been told by Croydon’s lawyers that the referendum cannot be held that soon because preparations for it, including the process of authenticating the petition’s signatures, cannot begin before 6 May either.
Newman said his advice is that, “Legally, the council, under national legislation, can’t even start the process of verifying those signatures before next May, whether we want to or not.”
In a letter to the council reportedly delivered on the same day as the petition, 3 September, Gerald Meredith-Smith, chairman of the Democratically Elected Mayor of Croydon (DEMOC) campaign wrote “we hope you will be able to confirm its validity very quickly, by early October”.
The letter also included what Meredith-Smith described as a summary of advice he said the campaign had received from “a leading public law lawyer on this topic”. He contended that this legal advice made it clear that the referendum could take place on 6 May 2021.
Croydon Council has been Labour-controlled since 2014, following two four-year terms under the Conservatives. DEMOC’s supporters include a number of residents’ associations, Chris Philp, the Conservative MP for Croydon South, some Labour Party members from the same constituency and a former UKIP general election candidate.
Newman expressed confidence that Croydon’s voters will reject the chance to adopt a mayoral system, and predicted that if a referendum is not held before the next local elections in 2022 – which he said “has to be a possibility” – there would be “a very, very clear manifesto pledge” not to “go down that route”.
Photograph: Croydon Town Hall interior. More material from the interview with Tony Newman will appear in a forthcoming On London feature about Croydon.
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