CROYDON COMMENTARY: The council’s chief executive Jo Negrini has gushed in her shameless self-publicity how £50million spent on the “gateways” to the borough have transformed the areas, and that is now the received “wisdom” from the borough’s political leadership. But Inside Croydon’s loyal reader* disagrees strongly
I have had first-hand experience of the public realm “improvements” in both South Croydon and Lower Addiscombe Road. My wife opened a business on Lower Addiscombe Road just before the pavement works began and the large national company I work for also opened a new outlet in South Croydon just before the works began there.
While the new pavements may be aesthetically pleasing, the works overran, the contractors blocked entrances to the shops and as the works dragged on for months, they made it nigh-on impossible for the less mobile, or those with prams or push chairs to access sections of the road.
Parking bays were taken out of action as storage space for plant and materials for the duration of the works. If any of the public overstayed in one of the few available bays by as much as three minutes, they were ticketed and fined.
As a new business, you work hard to build up a customer base and hope that your customers return on a regular basis as part of their routine. It takes time to become part of your customers’ behaviour pattern but that behaviour can quickly change and be replaced if they find it to difficult to visit you and alternative routines are established.
Many of the businesses on Lower Addiscombe Road suffered, some were unable to recover the trade they lost. The effect upon my wife’s business was devastating: business dropped to one-third of what it was before the “improvement” works began. When the customers eventually returned, some time after the works finished, the feedback we received was that visiting Addiscombe had become so difficult they went elsewhere.
This pattern was repeated in South Croydon; take a look at Inside Croydon‘s archive regarding the works in the Restaurant Quarter.
If the people who commissioned these schemes had any first-hand knowledge of running a business, they would ensure project managers and contractors have empathy with the businesses, aim to keep the disruption to a minimum and ensure the works are completed in a timely manner.
But at no time did anyone from the council or any of their contractors engage with the businesses in both locations.
After finally tracking someone down who was supposed to be involved in the project management, it was suggested the local businesses club together and create a “BID” by offering to pay more on our rates to access further funding and subsidise free parking.
We managed to see the councillors when they turned up for the obligatory propaganda photo opportunity, but by then it was too late for some shops, which had closed.
It matters not which politicians are in control of the council at the time: in Addiscombe it was under Conservative stewardship, South Croydon it was Labour. My perception is that the paid officials of the council do what they like, and when they like, at a low competency level, in the knowledge that those elected to hold them to account will never do so as they lack the spine or knowledge to so.
The council’s track record on other projects isn’t any better: Fairfield, Westfield, Reeves Corner, Fisher’s Folly… need I go on?
Yes, genuine street improvement schemes should be welcomed, but for those who operate in these locations during the works, the cost is far higher than anyone could imagine. It needn’t be, but with this council and its officials, for every month they tell you a project will take, multiply that by three, and then double that for the time it takes to regain the business you have lost.
*Croydon Commentaries are usually columns by named readers of this website who have an opinion to air. Contributions are always welcome. On this occasion, the author has asked us not to name them because of sensitivities with his employers, and we have chosen to respect that request
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