Another landmark Croydon pub is under threat of takeover from a supermarket chain. And our local councillors’ response – where they have bothered to respond – is effectively to shrug their shoulders and say there’s nothing that they can, or will, do.
But evidence from further up the A23 suggests that if councillors help to organise the community, the pillaging of key property sites in our community can be deterred, and even rebuffed.
The Red Deer, on the Brighton Road in South Croydon – not so long ago the star of a national television advert – is the latest target for a supermarket chain (in this case Morrisons). No matter that there’s already several other “express” supermarkets along a short stretch of this road, nor that Morrisons is building a large new store at Fiveways.
In the past year or so, Lidl has bought the Good Companions at Hamsey Green, while barely half a mile up the road from the Red Deer, Tesco has desecrated the Swan and Sugarloaf. That notable Victorian pub interior was ripped out by Tesco before they opened, and since they started trading they have begun the long, slow and painful process of ripping the guts out of the businesses of many local independent traders.
Nearby, the Woodman and The Star are old pubs, with differing reputations perhaps, that stand waiting for a property speculator to assess when the time might be right to stick an ugly block of small-roomed flats on them.
CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, reckons that 16 pubs are closing each week, squeezed by adverse business conditions, high excise duties on drinks, and – especially in London and the south-east where property values continue to climb – pressures to develop their site for bigger profits.
In the case of the Red Deer, local businesses, having had to withstand the economic downturn and Gideon Osborne’s imposed double dip, are now very worried that a branch of Morrison’s on their doorstep will undercut their prices and take away their custom.
Benedict Selvaratnam runs the Wine Cellar on Station Parade on the Sanderstead Road. He wrote of his concern to Inside Croydon, copying in four local councillors in Sanderstead and Croham wards. He got just two responses from the Town Hall.
One was from former IRA gun-runner Maria Gatland, the other from soon-to-be-mayor Yvette Hopley, whose advice was, basically, there’s nothing she can, or will, do.
“I understand your concerns,” Hopley wrote. That’s nice of her. “As you are probably aware the Sanderstead councillors have been supporting resident’s [sic] concerns over the Lidl applications for the former site of the Good Companions.
“… As you are probably aware under the current regulation a supermarket can open within the premises of a pub (because it is the same classification) without requiring a planning application.”
Selvaratnam had expressed understandable concern over the proliferation of branches of the large supermarket chains, to the detriment of local family businesses such as his own. “Please can you advise me on how best to make people aware of the long-term implications of allowing a supermarket to operate at the Red Deer site, and any way I can help in combating the demise of local independent shops?” he had asked.
Gatland’s suggestion of a petition might be a start, but it did not do the residents who opposed Lidl or the Swan and Sugarloaf redevelopment much good.
However, on Brixton Hill, a more energetic campaign, helped by local councillors in Lambeth and even supported by their MP, Chuka Umanna, looks like it may have helped to save another historic old boozer, the George IV. In the past week, Lambeth Council has used recent legislation to deter plans for (yet another) Tesco Express and to list the pub as an “asset of community value”.
“Lambeth’s decision to list George IV site as an asset of community value is fantastic news – we place incredible value on the unique character of our area and the listing shows that,” Umanna said.
Why couldn’t Croydon Council, and our councillors, who all received more than £11,000 a year of public dosh to represent their ward residents’ views and interests, manage to do something similar?
Interestingly, Steve O’Connell, another Croydon councillor and the London Assembly Member for the area, recently announced a campaign to preserve historic pubs from closure and re-development. When asked about the Red Deer, he claimed he did not know what the community’s views are. O’Connell was once Britain’s most over-paid councillor, having three publicly funded positions and pocketing more than £110,000. So it’s good to see that he has his finger on the pulse in Croydon. Not.
Inside Croydon asked the Save the George IV Campaign for their step-by-step guide to how they saved their local. This is what they suggested:
- It’s worth setting up an online petition. This can be done quickly using a site like ipetition. It won’t stop Tesco [or Morrisons], but it is a quick and effective way of demonstrating local opposition. I would also suggest you word it so that it calls on the council to recognise the importance of local pubs, and to work with the community to protect them.
- Secondly, start the process to get the pub listed as an “asset of community value”. This means that, were the pub ever to come up for sale, the community would get first dibs on buying it. It also makes a clear statement about how much the pub is valued by the community. More info can be found here.
- Use social media to spread the word. Particularly Facebook and Twitter.
- Since the change from pub to supermarket doesn’t require any change of use application, you can’t object to it. But the supermarket will need to apply for planning permission for signage, refrigeration units, possibly a car park, etc. They will also need to apply for an alcohol licence. Make sure you keep an eye on the licensing and planning notices. Object to everything, and use social media to get other people to object. Many people won’t have ever objected to applications before, so it’s helpful to write stuff like this so they know how to do it.
- Work with local councillors and ask them to “call in” planning and licensing applications so that they have to come before a committee, rather than being rubber-stamped [this is something which Croydon Councillor Tim Pollard has done over the Lidl site at Hamsey Green in the past month]. This really helps to delay things – what supermarket’s going to open without signage, refrigeration or an alcohol licence?
- Work with your local media to get regular stories about the pub into the press.
With the local community association and business groups opposed to having another supermarket chain in the area, residents in South Croydon will need to move speedily to save the Red Deer.
- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
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