High street’s failings are becoming something to bank on

And so while the local council bungs a few thousand quid (of our money) at a futile and probably fruitless one-day jamboree – though the bar takings for some members of the South Croydon Business Association might benefit – the hollowing out of another part of the borough continues.

Another reflection of the state of our high streets: Lloyd's Bank South End closes in three months' time

Another reflection of the state of our high streets: Lloyd’s Bank South End closes in three months’ time

A year’s worth of roadworks and disruption and all those millions of Riot Recovery Funds spent on putting new paving slabs outside the Lloyd’s Bank branch at South End has failed to persuade the bankers to keep the local branch open.

Signs announcing its closure on September 4 went up this week. A small area of businesses which within recent memory were served by four high street bank branches will soon have just the one.

Of course, the decline in use of high street banks has been going on for some time, in parallel with the rise and rise of online banking. Property values, too, play their part in business decisions over the future use of large-sized branches in prime locations.

The South End branch of Lloyd’s had been operating on a part-time opening basis for more than five years. The offices on the first floor have been vacant since 2010. The branch closure, though, will do nothing for the local street scene or the convenience of Lloyd’s customers.

The prospect of the property being quickly re-let and occupied by another business which could bring life and vibrancy to the area must be slim. Another bank building nearby, the former HSBC branch on the corner of Aberdeen Road is now a bookmakers; and what was once a Barclays, on the opposite corner of Warham Road from Lloyd’s, has remained unoccupied since it closed in 2013.

The Lloyd’s closure will be discussed at tonight’s meeting of the South Croydon Community Association.

The abandonment of another corner of Croydon by a major business, though, is symptomatic of the continuing decline of high streets across the country, and another demonstration of the real impotency of our local councils.

For all Croydon Council’s obsessing with the £1 billion redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre, they have little real influence or control over the mix and blend of outlets on our high streets.

As has been shown in Thornton Heath, with its dirty dozen bookies’ shops, if Paddy Power approach the owners of the Lloyd’s branch next week and offer to take up the lease from September, realistically there is nothing that the council’s planning committee can do to stop them.

Lloyd's Bank, South End: soon to be a new Paddy Power or a charity shop?

Lloyd’s Bank, South End: soon to be a new Paddy Power or a charity shop?

Charity shops? Fried chicken outlets?

It is the landowners who determine who moves into their properties, and – provided a property has an outline retail space planning designation – they will take on any business that pays the rent.

In the area around South End and Selsdon Road, where Lloyd’s is to close, the pre-dominant land-owners are the Whitgift Foundation, the very same people who own the vast majority of the Whitgift Centre. When the landmark pub, the Swan & Sugarloaf, was struggling, its Whitgift landlords shrugged their shoulders and leased the key site for a Tesco Express. There seemed to be no regard for how this multi-national’s competition would impact their other tenants, operating independent food and general stores on ever-decreasing margins.

Several other Whitgift-owned retail properties along this stretch of high street continue to stand vacant. Some have been empty for years, looking tired and decrepit. If the threat of the Tesco nearby doesn’t put off a potential new business, the tatty state of the shop probably will. Many of the shop-fronts have recently undergone a transformational face-lift – largely paid for out of public money from the Riot Recovery Fund. Which must have been nice for the property-owning Whitgift Foundation.

Whatever happened to the Portas Pilot – and the £100,000?

The South Croydon “Restaurant Quarter” was dreamt up by Grey Label, the favoured PR agency of the previous Tory council. But after nearly four years, the concept has made such a lack of impact that no one has been able to secure even modest sponsorship for its annual food festival – hence this week’s council bail-out.

Toni Letts spoke at last night's Croydon Toni Letts: Croydon's development cabinet member, has no idea what happened to the Portas Pilot moneyBID event: on behalf of the council or the Whitgift Foundation?

Toni Letts: Croydon cabinet member has no idea what happened to Portas money

This has all the appearance of the council spending good money after bad. Not for the first time.

Other “initiatives” using public money have been dismal in their outcome. Tony Letts, the Labour council’s cabinet member for economic development, recently told a meeting at the Town Hall that she has no idea how the £100,000 government grant for the Portas Pilot for Surrey Street and Croydon Old Town was spent.

Had Councillor Letts bothered to read Inside Croydon, she might have seen how the public cash was spent on renting out over-priced office space in a coffee shop run by one of the people on the original “Portas Team” committee, or on painting a mural on an underpass not even within the project area, or £16,000 on hiring tents and ovens for cake-baking competitions to be staged, conveniently, right outside the aforementioned coffee shop… .

Mary Portas "Queen of the High Street", visiting Croydon: not much has been seen of her since, nor any real impact of the Pilot

Mary Portas “Queen of the High Street”, visiting Croydon: not much has been seen of her since, nor any real impact of the Pilot

Here were several instances of public money being frittered away with no public control or accountability.

And ask any stall-holder or trader on Surrey Street what impact the Portas Pilot has had on their business and they will shrug. Or more likely snarl some expletive. Mary Portas won’t be parading down Surrey Street with a camera crew in tow any time soon, it is safe to assume.

Half-arsed re-branding of areas and one-day festivals are sure-fire ways of spending tens of thousands of public money, but wholly ineffective when it comes to making any real strategic change to our struggling high streets.

Charlotte Davies, the chair of the South Croydon Community Association, told Inside Croydon that what she wants for her neighbourhood is a more long-term approach to the area. “I am supportive of the Restaurant Quarter concept. I would just like to see it fully developed so that we have an area where it is a real pleasure to go to every evening, or at least at weekends, where traffic is minimised or diverted, and there is a really continental feel to the area. I think that it would be more attractive to sponsors.

“It would be lovely to see proper footpaths and cycle routes that link our open spaces and community activities to cafes, bars and restaurants. I would like to see some niche food outlets; we need a good butchers’ and greengrocers’.

“It would be better to get our empty shops open and thriving at very low rents than to have them sitting there year after year redundant,” Davies said.

“Equally I would like to see the other end of Croydon developed to celebrate the diversity of food, cultures and faiths.

“Croydon has such potential, but we have to make every investment count and yield long-term gains.”

  • 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
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2 Responses to High street’s failings are becoming something to bank on

  1. Given the recent history with banks, is there any difference between bookies and banks? After all both are after your cash and set the rates to make a profit. One does it legally and the other illegally but you make up your mind which is which.

  2. Lewis White says:

    It’s a pity in a number of ways that Lloyds Bank hasn’t decided to stay put, as the area around their now ex branch will certainly go up in the world over the next few years.

    The improved paving will improve the appearance of the street, as has happened in Purley, in the area from the old Astoria cinema site up to the swimming pool, which was repaved some years ago. The improved look and feel of that area has clearly made retailers feel better about doing up their premises– so, in my observation, although street-scape improvements take a few years to trigger renewed business confidence, eventually this seems to happen, so let’s hope it also happens in S Croydon.

    I think that the “restaurant quarter” is a good idea, but the real need in the Swan and Sugarloaf area is to redevelop the Brighton road in the area just South of the Swan and Sugarloaf, including the South extension part of the ex- pub. A lot of flats could be built on the plot here– at the moment, the single storey dead shop or showroom is plainly just crummy. We don’t need more shops–but we do need decent flats of a low rise nature eg 6 floors.

    This area of S Croydon is a mixture of the crummy and the quite nice in architectural quality. I would like to see a designation of “High Street Improvement Zone” being applied nationally to such areas, giving powers to councils to insist on good design for windows and shop fronts. Every bit of good design adds up –every bit of bad takes the area down.

    I would like to see landlords subjected to a carrot and stick process to make them let vacant shops — maybe punitive rates after a few years?

    It seems from the Inside Croydon article (and others over recent months) that the Whitgift Foundation needs to start investing in the area, not sitting on properties, waiting for decades for the market to go up. Surely, money can be made by developing flats above shops ?

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