Sshhh! Don’t tell everyone, but Croydon Council is staging a meeting next week to explain how it is going to spend £1million of your money on one of the most historically important areas of the borough.
The “informal” meeting, about the future of Surrey Street market, has been kept so low-key that you’d be forgiven for suspecting that the council wants to ensure that only a few hand-picked people bother to turn up.
The council’s drop-in event for Surrey Street market is being held next Thursday, January 12, from 5pm to 7pm at the Croydon Conference Centre, when council officials and architects will be on hand to talk about their plans for the sadly struggling street market.
Word that such a meeting would be taking place had been circulating since early December, but there was nothing to confirm it from Croydon Council. Even market traders, who are the beating heart of Surrey Street, and shop-keepers and residents who had repeatedly asked to be kept informed of the council’s plans, had been told nothing.
Until yesterday, that is. Then the council – which spends north of £500,000 per year on running what’s supposed to be a press and publicity department – finally bodged together a poster and asked those interested to “spread the word”. Which is good of them. Pity they couldn’t be bothered to place any notification of their own meeting on the council’s own website.
It is more than nine months since Mark Watson, the council cabinet member responsible, first announced that the council would be spending £500,000 to try to revive the sadly flagging fortunes of the street market, one of the oldest in the country, which dates to 1276.
Since Watson’s original announcement (which is suspected as being intended to distract from the £3.5million in council loans and grants going to Boxpark), there’s been precious little consultation, with a couple of poorly publicised meetings to ask what the market traders and residents might want. Locals are suspicious of a gentrification agenda, which might suit mega-money developers and property speculators, but will drive out long-term residents and businesses.
Most recently, Watson upped the ante by announcing that there was now to be a £1million spend, but without any explanation as to where the cash-strapped council is to find that extra cash, nor how it is to be spent.
Of course, a Sunday market has been introduced, but with pitiful results, the last staging seeing fewer than 10 stall-holders turn out. But then, the Sunday market could never provide a business benefit for the established market traders, who the council banned from even considering taking part. And still the promised street signs to the market have failed to materialise.
A limp “Christmas market” failed to deliver on its promised carol singing, mulled wine and mince pies and attracted barely a handful of curious by-passers. Senior council figures, such as Watson’s mate Tony Newman, the council leader, didn’t bother to show up at all, probably because they had more “glamorous” gigs to attend, at the council-subsidised Boozepark up the road.
And the lame Christmas market did absolutely nothing for Surrey Street’s established traders, who work come rain or shine throughout the year with precious little support from a council clearly fixated on mega-schemes such as Hammersfield and Boozepark.
Council plans to hoist a neon sign beneath the pedestrian bridge on Surrey Street were approved in November, though few residents or traders were ever aware of this latest style-over-substance scheme.
So far, indications are that Watson’s cunning plan for Surrey Street involves a lot of spending on a “co-ordinated package” of marketing, and then some road resurfacing work (doubtless with that task being undertaken by the same contractors who have made such a pig’s ear of the Disconnected Croydon projects at East Croydon and South End).
Watson, part of the closed clique which controls the Labour group on the council, has failed to answer questions put to him a month ago about his £1million Surrey Street revival plans.
These questions include:
- Where is the additional cash coming from?
- By any standard, £1million of public money for marketing is a significant spend, whether “co-ordinated” or not. What form will this “co-ordinated package” take?
- Will the marketing contract be properly put out to tender, or will the council’s usual PRs benefit yet again?
- Are you going to abandon the Sunday experiment, which excludes the market’s regular stall-holders?
- How much council money do you estimate to have been spent on the Sunday market?
- Might the “co-ordinated package of marketing” include the signs to the Sunday market which were promised to the traders when they were encouraged to take pitches?
Perhaps Sean Fitzsimons, the Labour chair of the council’s scrutiny committee, might have better luck at next Tuesday night’s meeting, which intriguingly includes an agenda item “Development of Surrey Street”. Yet as we published, the official council agenda had no accompanying report or papers on the Surrey Street plans. Perhaps they’re a secret? Or maybe they don’t actually exist?
Or maybe Fitzsimons can simply ask why public meetings for Surrey Street are so badly publicised?
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