It was a long night at Tuesday’s council scrutiny meeting, but the wait for the “big reveal” of the £1million plans for the borough’s cherished market was a bit of a waste of time, as WALTER CRONXITE reports
Residents living on or near Surrey Street have been deliberately excluded from a nine-month consultation on the future of Croydon’s 750-year-old street market, according to answers provided at a Town Hall meeting this week.
Mark Watson, the Croydon councillor who is supposedly in charge of the borough’s economy and jobs, told Tuesday night’s cross-party scrutiny committee that he feels the street market “looks a bit tatty”. He also said that previous consultation meetings on Surrey Street market had been intended only for shop-owners and stall-holders.
Watson indicated that the latest council meeting, to be held at the Croydon Conference Centre tonight, had been intended solely for Surrey Street businesses, rather than residents, too. Helen Pollard, the Tory councillor for Fairfield ward, which includes Surrey Street, said that even she had not been invited to the meeting.
With a six-week programme of works, costing the thick end of £1million, due to begin next month, Watson’s admission seemed to confirm what many residents have long complained about – that they have no say in the process.
“At what point were residents going to be consulted?” Pollard asked, not unreasonably.
“There’s been a complete lack of involvement of residents,” she said. “There’s been zero consultation. Surrey Street means a lot to the people of Croydon. Residents are saying that their needs have to be accommodated.”
Watson arrived at the Town Hall chamber with few hard details of his plans to revive the market beyond a six-frame PowerPoint presentation which he had failed to have ready in time to go on to the council’s website with the meeting agenda last week. The pictures showed one or two abstracts of neon signs that Watson said he hopes to bedeck either end of the market.
“It’s taken longer than I would have wanted,” Watson told the meeting.
“The architects are still working on it,” which seemed to reassure no one at the meeting. Watson said that he did not have much to show because planners and engineers were working on the “nuts and bolts” of levelling the carriageway, and that he hoped the architects might have their plans ready for inspection in time for this week’s public meeting.
Watson did manage to inform the meeting that the second tranche of £500,000 towards the works had come from Section 106 funding from other developments, and that most of the money would be spent on levelling the carriageway and what he repeatedly referred to as “reconfiguration”, meaning moving the traditional street stalls off the market’s pavements and into the roadway, in what he called a “more uniform approach”. This work would also make it easier for contractors to clean the street after trading, which had become a significant problem.
“It looks a bit tatty down there,” Watson said, as he spoke fondly of the alternative of pop-up bars and restaurants in some of the market’s disused buildings. Watson did not address how these suggested ventures would fare any better than the council-funded pop-up flop which was the “Surrey Streatery”, nor how the food and drink start-ups might survive the competition from the council-subsidised industrial-scale Boozepark less than a mile away.
Watson has in the past spoken publicly about how he does not consider some of the existing shops, such as Iceland, to fit in with his particular vision for the market’s future, and residents and existing traders fear a gentrification agenda which would ultimately price them out of the area.
“My vision is to keep the excellent market we’ve got,” Watson said on Tuesday.
Watson said that some of the £1million is to be spent on what he described as “interesting lighting”. He did not tell the meeting who would be putting this together, but Inside Croydon has discovered that it is to be overseen by the Rise Gallery. Watson provided no detail of any design competition to choose the most attractive or appropriate lighting for Surrey Street, nor did he mention whether this commission using a considerable sum of public money had ever been put out to competitive tender.
Resident Andrew Kennedy (although not someone who lives close to the market), was given a brief opportunity to speak at the council meeting. He described Watson’s presentation as “really underwhelming”.
Watson went to some length to deny that he had blocked the weekday stall-holders from his Sunday Market scheme, claiming “The stall-holders did not want to work on Sundays,” before adding that the Sunday market would continue through January and February because 10 Sunday traders had requested it.
“The Sunday market offers huge potential,” Watson said. When the Sunday market began in September, there were two dozen stalls trading there; by last Sunday, Watson’s brainchild had just three stalls open for business.
Based on past experience with the council’s paving and roadworks contractors, Labour councillor Carole Bonner expressed some concern about potential delays in completing the carriageway works, and how this might affect trade in the market, while her colleague, Joy Prince, said that she was worried about the risks of erasing Surrey Street’s historic character.
Sean Fitzsimons, the scrutiny committee chair, called for Croydon BID, the business investment district centred on North End and the Whitgift Centre shops, to have greater involvement in the future of Surrey Street, and seemed to suggest that the latest investment in the street market was an afterthought from the council pre-occupied with the glittering future offered by Hammersfield and the free drinks some among the council leadership enjoy at Boozepark.
“I was always surprised when the council reorganised areas around the area, but left the market alone,” Fitzsimons said.
“Croydon needed to spend. How is the £1million spent most effectively? Markets are different from high streets: where are we learning lessons from?”
Not for the first time in the Town Hall chamber this week, Watson was unable, or unwilling, to provide any answers.
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