CROYDON COMMENTARY: £148,000 on tonight’s bike race, a few more thousand on the South Croydon Food Festival, and millions of Riot Recovery money on some paving and saplings, all to replace paving and saplings. DAVID CALLAM responds to our report about the decline of neighbourhood high streets
Croydon Council is incompetent not just because it throws money around willy-nilly, but because it thinks this largesse will make a difference, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
In the past it has spent significant sums of public money in secondary shopping areas in Coulsdon, Norbury, Thornton Heath and South Norwood, without any noticeable improvement in trade.
The problem is the council is torn between the political imperative – the local authority must be seen to be doing something – and the reality – that consumers have long since moved on.
I have lived in South Croydon for more than 30 years. When I arrived and for some years afterwards, there was a viable shopping offer centred on Ye Market on Selsdon Road, which included two or three butchers’ shops and a wonderful greengrocers from which the Saturday morning queue would snake down the road and around the corner. I can even remember when Candy Box, now long-abandoned, was still a working specialist sweet shop.
All have gone and none of them replaced, because we, the general public, now shop elsewhere. We didn’t abandon the local shopping parade because of council parking restrictions, although that didn’t help. We weren’t fed up with the standards of service, although supermarkets are open longer and offer a wider range of products at keener prices. We opted for greater convenience, including free parking (on which the supermarkets spent a fortune).
And because we have moved on, nothing that secondary parades can do, with or without council hand-outs, will tempt us back.
Smaller firms with ambition will move to retail complexes, where lots of low-cost or free parking attracts lots of potential customers. The rest will continue to moan about parking costs or traffic congestion. They will complain about the landlords’ standards of maintenance, but strenuously resist any increase in rent which might trigger much-needed capital investment.
It must be 50 years or more since an influential report from the GLC revealed that Greater London was substantially over-supplied with shop units in secondary and tertiary parades.
The report correctly predicted the demise of smaller traders.
We need to move on. We should encourage landlords to concentrate retail units in one small part of the shopping area and redevelop the rest as social housing.
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