London Road still bypassed by aid, media and politicians

CROYDON COMMENTARY: The area worst-hit by arson and looting on the night of the riots has never been a priority, right from the moment the first petrol bombs were hurled on August 8, 2011, says PATRICK RATNARAJA

London Road has been second priority from the start.

Worst hit by the 8/8 riots, London Road has been short-changed by Croydon Council in distribution of post-riot aid

Worst hit by the 8/8 riots, London Road has been short-changed by Croydon Council in distribution of  aid

The die was cast the moment that the police retreated to hold the line on the small hill above West Croydon Station during the 2011 riots – London Road was the lesser priority for riot protection. It has been the same over riot recovery since.

The town centre was protected, but London Road and Reeves Corner were left abandoned.

Malcolm Wicks, Croydon North’s late MP, reported how his London Road constituents were left to fend for themselves when they called for police assistance.

In the House of Commons, Wicks said, “It is interesting that the centre of Croydon, with big national offices such as those of Nestlé, major superstores such as Marks and Spencer and national brands, was protected by the police, so the mobs descended towards West Croydon, and came into my constituency — the poorer part of the borough, where enterprises are small and tend to be owned by hard-working families.

“I heard dozens of reports, as I ducked into shops to look at the devastation, that the police had effectively been nowhere to be seen, 999 calls were sometimes unanswered. When people got through, they were told that no officers were available. If they dared to call again out of fear about what was happening, they were told they were being a nuisance and, ‘Please do not call again’.”

Photo op, anyone? Like many politicians, London Mayor Boris Johnson visited Reeves Corner, while London Road has become forgotten

Photo op, anyone? Like many politicians, London Mayor Boris Johnson visited Reeves Corner, while London Road has been neglected and forgotten

Media coverage, enthralled by the conflagration at Reeves Corner, concentrated its attention there. Ever since, the politicians have migrated there for their photo opportunities. Even on the second anniversary of the riots this week, television crews were choosing Reeves Corner as their backdrop.

London Road’s businesses run by ethnic minority families are less photogenic, apparently.

Ed Miliband has come to Croydon but has never deigned to visit London Road. The Millibandwagon went to Lewisham after the riots, not Croydon. He came to Croydon to canvass for Steve Reed before the Croydon North by-election but he didn’t bother to visit the shops on London Road.

By contrast, Conservative MP Gavin Barwell has gone to the effort of leaving his Croydon Central constituency and visiting London Road symbolically on one occasion with young people to do some practical work to clean up rubbish, only to be distracted by a  confrontation involving racist abuse and a threat of bodily harm from one of his work team that led to the police being called.

It is a complete political failure that two years on, we are still talking about financial relief and support that is going to come in the future for London Road.

It will be good that there will be £2,000 for each shopkeeper to improve their shop fronts and that the pavements will be improved. The place has been renamed “Broad Green Village”. That is a name that is liked by the nostalgic residents’ association but which really has little resonance for the diverse black and minority ethnic community along a very urban busy road.

Radical ideas to rename the area with a title to advertise the great mixture of cultural food it offers is what is needed. Much of the ugly polluting traffic needs removing.

There is an Enterprise Hub with a flashy new sign, just opened, at Croydon Voluntary Action. However, the CVA has closed down the West Croydon Community Forum set up after the riots “to create a strong voice which can stand up for the whole community and help make a difference in West Croydon”. It seems that voice expressed opinion too strong for the likes of the corporatist CVA and its paymasters at Croydon Council.

The CVA was the host for the occasion when Jon Rouse, then chief executive of Croydon Council, threw the press out from a public community event held to discuss progress – or the lack of it – on London Road. That’s how close the CVA is to the council and how remote it is from the community.

The CVA is too divorced from the local community to be the appropriate conduit for community development in West Croydon. It really just acts as an over-dominant corporate body that shuts down the dialogue with the local community if it doesn’t fall in line with its own agenda. The CVA’s firm grip over voluntary sector charity funding seems a very unConservative approach to the voluntary sector in Croydon and Conservatives should have made the effort to dismantle this arrangement that was set up by the Labour party when they were in control of the Town Hall.

Scene of devastation: London Road was the worse hit area by the riots, but has been neglected ever since

Scene of devastation: London Road was the worse hit area by the riots, but has been neglected ever since

The problem is that councillors just don’t have the roots in the local community to build a proper voice for disadvantaged residents. The performance of the Broad Green Labour councillors in giving voice to West Croydon’s concerns has been just risible. They seem to have been more concerned to play internal party games to ensure that no one would be allowed to challenge them within the Labour party to be the local candidates at the next elections.

The residents, such as the proprietor at the Haji and Son butcher’s shop, feel unrepresented.

He told me, “Life still goes on but the business has been put back 10 years. We still carry on with our hard work without any help from the local council.

“Broad Green has always been a neglected area. The media always highlights Reeves Corner. Politicians don’t bother to visit this affected area. More should have been earlier because now loans are hard to get from the banks. Politicians have not acted quick enough. It’s two years now. Something should have done by now.”

On all this, the local Broad Green councillors have been effectively mute.

The community gets on with things, trying to repair itself and private money does show itself resilient.

To make things worse for small businesses, supermarket giants, Tesco and Sainsbury’s have decided to open their stores on London Road.

Thursday’s anniversary of the riots coincided with the festival of Eid, and London Road was full of a riot of a different kind – a riot of celebration of life and colour. At Help House, local Tamil business people set up an organisation that gives pro bono medical, legal, benefits and housing advice, and it set up a new community hall to aid cohesion.

Initially set up to help the community in Broad Green immediately after the riots in August 2011 under the leadership of Dr Kannappar Jeyanthan, Help House is now proud to serve all  south London communities.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s Big Society is helping communities to feel motivated to solve problems in their neighbourhood with the freedom to influence and to discuss
topics that matter to them and for there to be more of a local approach to social action and responsibility. It’s just a shame that the CVA does not subscribe to that Conservative philosophy.

  • Patrick Ratnaraja was a Conservative candidate for Broad Green ward in the 2006 local elections
  • Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
  • Post your comments on this article below.
  • If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in 8/8: London Road stories, Broad Green, Community associations, Crime, Croydon 8/8, Croydon Council, Croydon North, Croydon Tamil Business Forum, Gavin Barwell MP, Jon Rouse, London Road Traders Association, Malcolm Wicks MP, West Croydon Community Forum and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to London Road still bypassed by aid, media and politicians

  1. South Croydon Community were up in West Croydon working with the residents on the parking campaign before the Riots. After the riots all the people from the streets who had worked together so hard to campaign against excessive parking controls came out again seeking to work with WCCF to go out again door to door building a community group… BUT CVA blocked and blocked and blocked requests to go out door to door. The final WCCF meeting was scene to a gross abuse of power by CVA senior staff.

    I was shocked when I heard that CVA had funds from the Lottery to promote community volunteers. CVA is not about empowerment, it is about creating dependencies that ensure a steady flow of funds through the CVA.

    CVA needs to come out of West Croydon. The community have plenty of leaders and entrepreneurial skills they need to develop their own solutions.

  2. What a great shame, Mr Ratnaraja, that you chose to spoil an otherwise excellent commentary by allowing your party political bias to show so strongly.
    The best suggestion I’ve seen for London Road came from Andrew Pelling in an article here on Inside Croydon where he suggested we remove all but public service vehicles from the area and turn it into a ‘shop the world’ market.
    That would complement beautifully the plans Hammerson and Westfield have for the town centre.

    • In response to Patrick’s article regarding London Road, he knows the three Labour Councillors have not been in power since 2006, so therefore have very little influence on the spending priorities of the Conservative majority controlling the Council.

      When it comes to sticking up for West Croydon all three Labour Councillors have regularly attended meetings and spoke at Council meetings arguing for a better deal, a better deal that suggested the London Mayor gave the recovery money directly to the community to let them decide priorities and to get the job done. Instead the Council and Mayors office involved consultants and now we see the inevitable delays, which are both unfair and unacceptable.

      My own view is that Croydon Council had the capital to build a new H.Q.and the capital to recently buy the old hospital site on London Road, so why didn’t they spend their capital on the London Road recovery then claim the money back from the Mayor’s supposed recovery funds?

      Lastly I’d remind Patrick that Broad Green is a huge Ward going from West Croydon to Valley Park to the edge of Mitcham Common , it has many communities and many differing issues. All three Broad Green Councillors have attended a multitude of community meetings, delivered thousands of leaflets on many issues from riot recovery to the incinerator that threatens the health of our residents. We have also dealt with many residents issues through our casework.

      It is time to stop the blame game and I’ll be making a positive start with our M.P. Steve Reed to get the Leader of Labour Party, Ed Miliband to lend his support to the campaign for a better deal for Broad Green.

      In the mean time Patrick, I’ll see you at the Tamil sports day 18/8/2013.

      Cllr Stuart Collins.

  3. David Callam has it about right here. A good article spoiled by bitter politics.

    If anyone cared to ask the Broad Green Councillors, they would know that the majority of their time is spent on unseen and unheard casework consisting of undertaking housing casework for a wide range of residents, undertaking casework in relation to council tax issues and benefit claims. Many other issues come up for a councillor, and take a lot of time up to work on. However it goes unseen, as its about a one to one relationship and not about shouting party politics about as Mr Ratnaraja thinks.

    When we think about Party Politics being played, lets be very clear. we have a Tory Council in Croydon, a Council that plays big party politics with the riots. It started the day after the riots when the Council arranged a last minute visit with the Prime Minister, but didn’t tell the local councillors about it (because we are Labour?).

    Party Politics has continued ever since with the Tories claiming £23million of ‘riot recovery’ money for London Road from the London Mayor and Government. This money was never really Riot Recovery money at all. If it was it would have been used to bring the areas affected by riots back into economic vitality within months. No, this money, still branded as Riot Recovery money by the Tory council has been spent all over Central Croydon – mainly benefiting the commercial centre – very little has been earmarked for London Road.

    Two years on, and the council is still contemplating putting new paving in, but it still doesn’t clean London Road to the same Standard as the town centre. The Government still hasn’t paid out the compensation that is due. A pro-active council would have started to re-build the row of buildings on London Road that were burnt down. How hard can it be to buy the owners out and get London Road re-built?

    The Police seem to have gone quiet on finding those that burnt down homes and businesses on London Road. A very different story to the Reeves Corner arson that received so much TV coverage.

    So, the Local (Labour) Councillors that represent West Croydon and along London Road (of which I am one, representing Selhurst Ward), will continue to quietly get on with our job of representing people day in day out, just as we did on the morning following the riot when we walked London Road and provided practical help and advice to countless people. We will also ensure that we work for a Labour Council in the elections next May to return a Labour Council that will treat London Road fairly and start to build stronger communities and work to revitalise an important everyday shopping street that sits next to the multi-national owned chain stores of Central Croydon.

    Let us work to create One Croydon that looks after every part of our borough fairly.

    • Ratnaraja says:

      Good one Tim from “One Nation” to “One Croydon”.

      I am not playing party politics just because the Broad Green councillors are Labour councillors.

      Being a Conservative supporter I have questioned the current administration too. Just don’t blame the Tories if there is no sunshine. Let us be realistic here. How many years of Labour administration did we have in Croydon? What was done for Broad Green? Absolutely nothing. I can say it again, both the Conservatives and the Labour party have not done anything for Broad Green.

      It is not a marginal ward so there is nothing to gain for the Conservatives. No matter who the candidate is Broad Green will always be a Labour majority ward.

      So working for a Labour council in May 2014 is more important than the people of Broad Green is it?

  4. Is there a local election in the offing?

  5. “One Croydon” is a slogan that comes not from politics it comes from the residents.

    Croydon is full of lovely, hard-working people who try hard to keep a roof over the heads, feed and educate their children, look after their elderly, and be good neighbours. Far more unites us than divides us. We have not the time or energy for silly political squabbles and greedy grabbing we want one Croydon where there is an equality of opportunity and quality of life for all; where we can all walk as equal, confident citizens.

    Whilst any area of the borough remains poor in terms of social outcomes we are all poorer…. inequality makes people feel unsafe; poverty creates ill-health and low educational outcomes – so costs everyone money.

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