The festering scandal of how London Road has been forgotten

CROYDON COMMENTARY: In a week of anniversaries, tomorrow’s of the Croydon Riots reminds us quite how poorly served the people of London Road have been by some working in public service. By STEVEN DOWNES

To borrow a phrase, August 8 is a date that will go down in infamy. At least as far as Croydon is concerned.

West Croydon stationThree years on from the riots, and what has changed?

Not very much, it seems, as some parts of our community continue to feel a justifiable sense of abandonment by the authorities.

Just this week, with the sort of comic mis-timing of which Norman Wisdom might have been proud, Croydon Council’s media department has been busily publicising the news that £3.2 million-worth of works are about to start in Broad Green and along London Road, the areas worst affected by the arson, rioting and looting on 8/8.

It has taken them three years to get round to it. A full 36 months since the riots.

The insensitive souls working in Fisher’s Folly have even crassly headlined the work as a Croydon “Facelift”. Ha bloody ha. 

A new paving slab here, a lick of paint there: it is all quite superficial, another example of yet more style over substance. And all wretchedly too little and much too late for the many who lost their homes and their livelihoods in that night of riots, when the council and local police effectively abandoned them to the mob.

For those who were forced from their homes and businesses in 2011, the modest works starting in London Road in 2014 are, according to one local campaigner for victims of the riots, “…like giving the kiss of life to a corpse years after they’ve had the last rites read to them”.

Of course, similar projects have already been conducted elsewhere in the borough, in Fairfield and Croham, wards which were far less affected by the rioting than London Road. Unlike Labour-supporting Broad Green, both of these wards happen to have Conservative councillors, including Vidhi Mohan, who was the cabinet member responsible for prioritising these projects under the previously Tory-run council.

All the projects have been part-funded by the Mayor of London’s laughably entitled “Riot Recovery Fund”.

London Road: modest investment in paving slabs and a bit of paint will do little to address the problems following the riots

London Road: modest investment in paving slabs and a bit of paint will do little to address the problems following the riots

“Almost £600,000 of the budget will be spent supporting 40 local businesses to improve their shops and building frontages,” according to the council in a statement issued yesterday, in an admission that this is all about papering over cracks. “This will include cleaning and repainting, new shop fronts, signs, awnings and security shutters, and the restoration of historic features.”

It’s the same-old, same-old elsewhere, too, as far as the aftermath of the riots are concerned. The not-so-local paper, from the safety of their offices in Dorking, have run a suitably facile poll of their diminishing band of readers, full of over-simplified, yes-no answers in an attempt to generate a couple of easy headlines during the usually slow-news silly season.

Most reasonably minded observers will have been aware from that terrible weekend of rioting in London that there are no simple answers, no quick fixes to any of the under-lying problems across the capital that led to and contributed to the nights of destruction.

It is telling how often the supra-authority for London, the Mayor’s Office, crops up time and again in the post-riots stories, and never in a good way.

There’s the slow delivery of works under the riot recovery fund. Then there’s the glacially slow progress when it comes to paying compensation under the Riots Damages Act – again ultimately the responsibility of the Mayor as the police commissioner for the Met. Only yesterday, one couple whose London Road business was gutted by the riots finally got their pay-out. Three whole years after the event. Thanks, Boris!

Boris Johnson, as London Mayor and police commissioner, has presided over Croydon having 50 fewer police on the streets for the past three years as well as the closing of all but one of the borough’s police stations – a plan which he and our London Assembly Member, Steve O’Connell, knew about when seeking re-election in 2012 but avoided mentioning until after they had been safely returned to their cosy positions at City Hall. Meanwhile, violent crime on our borough’s streets has been on the increase.

It is fair to say that we were sceptical of the Croydon Riots Review Panel when it was established in September 2011, suspecting it of being a toothless body too steeped in its local Establishment connections and vested interests to make any difference.

The panel was given just a fortnight to collect evidence. The police refused to co-operate. Nonetheless, the review panel made a grand total of 24 recommendations when it delivered its report in March 2012.

It is a festering scandal for our borough and our city that, as of today, not a single one of those mostly modest recommendations have been implemented in full either by the London Mayor or Croydon Council.

The majority of the panel’s recommendations focused on policing, which some may suggest was because there was much to be improved about the way our streets are policed.

The recommendations included,

  • “Increasing the number of Level-2 public order-trained officers across the service” and
  • “Ensuring boroughs that have officers taken away for use elsewhere are not left without any public order-trained police”.

When Croydon had another bout of public order problems with the rave at the East Croydon Post Office building earlier this summer, the police on duty were forced to withdraw from the scene because of the lack of sufficient and suitably trained or equipped officers.

As the capital's police chief, Boris Johnson has failed to implement a single recommendation of the Croydon Riots Review Panel

As the capital’s police chief, Boris Johnson has failed to implement a single recommendation of the Croydon Riots Review Panel

The review panel’s recommendations also included,

  • “Increase visible policing in West Croydon and New Addington by opening full-time stations in these areas”;
  • “Assess whether the overall number of police officers in Croydon is in keeping with areas such as Lewisham, Wandsworth and Islington and whether resourcing takes sufficient account of the high levels of unreported crime and fear of crime in some areas of the borough”;
  • “Take into account the requirements of areas outside immediate town centres when considering the level of policing required for incidents”;
  • “A reduction in the number of stop and searches that are not intelligence-based to achieve better targeting”;
  • “Ensuring stop and searches are undertaken in a dignified manner that does not cause disaffection”;
  • “Provide every person who was stopped and searched with written reasons for doing so”.

Those last three recommendations for the police are particularly noteworthy, since they demonstrate how we have learned nothing in the past 30 years. When Lord Scarman delivered his report on the Brixton Riots in the early 1980s, the Met’s stop and search policy was singled out for particular criticism in the way it was ill-used and created divisions between communities and the police.

Yet here, in the 21st century, and following another full-scale riot in another part of south London, similar recommendations have been put to the police. And ignored. The work of a local stop and search monitoring group may be instructive in this area in future.

Since becoming MP for Croydon North, Steve Reed has followed Inside Croydon’s lead, looking at some of our case studies of riot victims. “The Prime Minister and the Mayor of London walked along the devastated London Road and promised people they would not be forgotten, that while the state had failed to protect them during the riots, it would stand by them now as they rebuilt their lives,” Reed said.

“They feel completely abandoned by a government that promised to help them when the TV cameras were on, but walked away when the media glare died down.”

That was more than 12 months ago. Another year on, and little has changed for the residents and small business owners of the London Road. MP Reed has met with residents, of course, and offered many reassuring words. But neither he nor the Conservative-led government’s whip, Gavin Barwell, appear to have affected much in the way of significant or immediate improvements for the people of Croydon North and Central who were victims of the riots.

Croydon Labour leader Tony Newman: looking forward, not back, apparently

Croydon Labour leader Tony Newman: looking forward, not back, apparently

Of course, at Croydon Town Hall there is now a new, Labour political administration. But will that change anything? Can the Labour-run council really change anything?

The early signs are not good.

In Labour’s local election manifesto for Croydon, the word “riots” was mentioned just once. Fly-tipping was mentioned seven times as often. “We’re looking forward, not back,” has been the new slogan of Tony Newman since taking over as Leader of the Council in June.

Is that signal of where the Labour-run council, with reduced budgets and limited powers, believes it can affect change – street-sweeping – rather than by getting the Tory Mayor who runs our police to deliver on his responsibilities? Sadly, probably.

Newman and the borough’s elected representatives have already endorsed the leadership of the council’s executive, many of whom were in position and in charge on that infamous night of the riots. For all the chatter about cleaning Croydon’s streets, Labour seems strangely reluctant to employ a new broom to sweep through the council offices.

“We’re looking forward, not back.” It is a curious position to take, to entrust the solution of the problems of neglect, abandonment and disinvestment which led to the riots to the very same people who have singularly failed the people of London Road for three years and more.



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7 Responses to The festering scandal of how London Road has been forgotten

  1. Well done Inside Croydon. It is time some one realised that this is not Lambeth South, this is not Brixton and this is our Croydon North.

    Broad Green is an area where I spend time with locals, do my grocery shopping (for curries) and also have dinner at Spiceland every Friday.

    Both political parties have conveniently ignored Broad Green for a long time. The Labour councillors are quick to blame the Conservatives without realising that the eight years they were in power (1998-2006) they did absolutely nothing to improve the place.

    For the Conservatives as long as they were able build more houses in Broad Green to meet their targets, they were pleased.

    I agree that we have to help the businesses on London Road and improve the area. The business people should also realise that they do not own the whole of the pavement areas and that they must do something to keep London Road clean.

  2. Should council money be spent on improving private buildings?

    I can see it both ways. While it’s good the council are investing some money in the area which certainly could use a tidy up, many shops are owned by extremely rich individuals who have many properties and seem reluctant to put their hands into their own pockets.

    • The insurers can spend to build private buildings. Some shop owners did not have any insurance and are still making demands to the council and the police for compensation, some even after receiving compensation. There were issues with land ownership and that has been resolved by one owner selling it to the majority shareholder. One shop owner who received £350,000 compensation is still complaining, although his shop was not burned down.

      Some businesses who lost customers and income due to the riots don’t get anything as their shops were not damaged.

      The council promised to help with cleaning up and paying towards new sign boards and I believe it was approved by the Conservative council but nothing has happened as some businesses are not pleased with the their part of the contribution.

      What was the amount received from the Mayor of London and how much was spent in the riots affected areas specially Broad Green?

      • Duona says:

        Patrick has so much to say about those who lost properties in the riots, whilst knowing nothing about individual circumstances.

        He did nothing to help anyone in his community whilst his cronies were in charge and he even stood as a candidate for the Croydon Tories.

        He now comments here on how people “complained” about what happened to them in the riots.

        People like the Marleys, who worked harder than anyone I know to run that business for years, Mr Marley would be there every day at 8 and not leave until the evening, as did we work hard to run our business for 20 yrs, almost going bankrupt under the last destructive Tory administration, only to lose it in the 2011 riots.

        Patrick: you haven’t a clue how people suffered in the riots. That shopkeeper you talk so glibly of still suffers from the trauma of that night .. his health and his family have suffered and you call yourself a spokesman for them?

        You’re talking out of your hat Patrick to put it politely.

        As citizens we are supposed to be protected by the police. If they fail we are entitled to compensation.
        That’s the Law, we’ve paid our taxes and we are entitled.

        • I would like to say that I am not a spokesperson for anyone. As usual you are trying twist my comments and not accepting the fact that some business people want more, more and more compensation at the expense of the tax payer.

          This is called pure greed and nothing else.

          I never said anything against you.

          If you have a problem with the former Tory administration you should probably take it up with them and not me. You may have paid your taxes so have I . I don’t want my council tax to be paid to some greedy business people who can’t be bothered to pay insurance and want everything from the council (once again I am not saying about you).

          It is the Tory government made sure that this came under the riots act and compensation must be paid.

          All citizens are supposed be protected by the police and that doesn’t mean every victim of crime gets compensation. This country will be bankrupt if that happens.

          My laptop was stolen (victim of crime) and the police didn’t pay me compensation my insurers paid as the laptop was insured.

          I support genuine business people and not those who expect the tax payer to foot their bill.

          I did not name anyone when I mentioned £350,000 and you have let the whole world know (yes insideCroydon is read by people around the world). It was actually another shopkeeper I was talking about.

    • The ownership of the properties is an interesting issue.

      Maybe someone at Croydon Council can provide a breakdown of the amount being spent on properties and who their owners, and ultimate beneficiaries, might be.

      The Whitgift Foundation may well figure very prominently.

  3. I think the riots are slightly a side issue, it was a one off event (hopefully!) and clearly the council should do what it can to support those business which have suffered a loss out. I don’t really have a problem with that.

    What I think is slightly less clear cut is that fact that that thousands (millions?) of our hard earned pounds are going to extremely wealthy individuals and businesses, be it the Whitgift Foundation or smaller landlords on London Road. At the end of the day they are profit driven entities and while the council should be supporting local business (both big and small), at the same time we shouldn’t freely be handing out cash for things which really should be a business expense.

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