The first meeting of the South End Community Forum takes place this Friday, May 25, when sure to be close to the top of the agenda is the dire threat to local businesses of the decision of the Whitgift Foundation, the owners of the landmark Swan & Sugarloaf pub, to turn over the building for yet another Tesco store.
There is a bitter irony that while Croydon Council is trying a fallacious re-branding exercise in the area, calling it the “Restaurant Quarter”, they have not found any means as the planning authority to insist that the Whitgift Foundation reuses the old pub as a bar or restaurant, rather than the proposed Tesco Express which could strangle the life out of the neighbourhood’s many cherished independent traders, who run cafes, florists and small shops along the Selsdon Road and nearby.
Because the Swan & Sugarloaf has existing planning permission as a pub, Tesco is able to exploit this with one of their Express stores, since this does not require a change of use through the council planning committee.
If the Tesco goes ahead, as it now seems certain, it would be the third such Express store carrying their branding in just a mile between South End, along the Brighton Road, to East Croydon. And barely a mile in the opposite direction, of course, is the Tesco superstore at Purley.
In a sinister twist, local South End traders, some of whom are tenants of the Whitgift Foundation, have been “warned off” their campaigning against Tesco by senior figures in the community, who have claimed to be well-connected with the Foundation.
The Whitgift Foundation, which has recently undertaken significant repair work to the exterior of the pub, protest that the pub had been empty for more than a year and had been badly damaged when occupied by squatters. They claim to be powerless to find another, more suitable tenant that would be more in keeping with the building and would respect the local area and its existing independent businesses.
One source close to the Foundation told Inside Croydon, “We were offered more money by McDonald’s. Surely this is better?” To which the answer is, “No”.
This is exactly the sort of retail development that the ConDem government’s shopping “tzarina”, Mary Portas, is campaigning against. Tesco’s vast economies of scale make them able to undercut the prices in the small independent shops, driving them out of business, turning previously thriving High Streets into a depressingly identikit assembly of charity shops and bookies, or a wasteland of empty husks where there was once busy shops.
In the latest pathetic sop by the giant multi-national to its soon-to-be neighbours in South End, Tesco has said that local shop keepers will be able to advertise on a “community board” inside the new store. This is a particularly empty gesture: Tesco knows full well that once inside their store’s front door, most shoppers are not going to pause to read a few postcards pinned to a board and then leave to shop elsewhere.
Indeed, there is absolutely no “community premium” at all to be had from allowing Tesco to open up yet another Croydon shop in its drive for global domination. In its major redevelopments, other local authorities have at least been able to drive hard bargains to ensure that Tesco pays for public facilities: over the borough boundary in Streatham, in return for building another superstore opposite the common, Tesco agreed to build a skating rink and a swimming pool.
In South End, even local Conservative councillors are complaining of being powerless to influence the all-powerful Whitgift Foundation in allowing Tesco to move in. Steve O’Connell, in his London Assembly election campaign, spoke out against yet another Tesco. And Maria Gatland, councillor for Croham ward, has said, “It is an important building and bearing in mind we are looking to regenerate the area, there should have been some consultation.”
Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell, who sits on the board of the Whitgift Foundation, has been silent on this issue.
One slight hope that locals have is that the council could find cause to block the minor planning application that Tesco does have to make, for alterations to the pub’s entrance, to instal a cash machine (there are three banks with cash points within a minute of the building) and for its signage. It is unlikely that the council will find legal cause to block Tesco’s application for a licence to sell alcohol.
- This Friday’s inaugural meeting of the South End Community Forum is being held at Church House, by St Peter’s church, on Heathfield Road from 7pm.
It is being organised by local resident Charlotte Davies, who says that “any person resident of working in the area around South End who wishes to contribute” is invited to attend.
“A residents’ group registered with the council has a greater say in planning decisions for the area,” Davies said. “The residents need a group that represents their interests in planning for the development of the area, along with the South Croydon Traders’ Association.”
For more information about this Friday’s meeting, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Inside Croydon: A news source about Croydon that is not based in Redhill. Post your comments on this article below. If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, email us at email@example.com
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