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.
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’.”
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.
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
- Compromised riots report covers up policing problems
- MP Barwell says he got it wrong over group’s racist incident
- London Road betrayed by broken promises says MP Khan
- For Inside Croydon’s archive of coverage of the riots, from August 8 2011 through until this week, click here
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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