That’s the problem when you hold public meetings – the public might actually express some opinions. WALTER CRONXITE on how poorly presented plans for Surrey Street appear to be unravelling already
Less than 48 hours after senior councillor Mark Watson had (sort of) outlined his own vision for the future of Croydon’s 750-year-old street market, a (sort of) public meeting staged in Surrey Street was told that the council’s “reconfiguration” road works, part of a £1million regeneration spend, might not start by the end of February as Watson had suggested, because architects and engineers have not yet worked out how to get the job done.The meeting also revealed that there was no firm plan in place for how the market might continue to trade while the road works were taking place, and stall-holders at the meeting contradicted Watson’s assertion that none of them wanted the opportunity to trade on Sundays. Because, as this website has reported before, they do.
Watson’s non-consultation consultation even extends to one of the biggest businesses on Surrey Street: the Dog and Bull pub, where staff have told Inside Croydon that the management had only short notice of the meeting.
Watson, part of the cliquey quartet of Croydon councillors who control the Labour group at the Town Hall, appears to have a gentrification agenda to turn Surrey Street from its traditional “pound-a-bowl” fruit and veg market into something where “pound-a-croissant” from artisan bakers is more acceptable.
High among Watson’s priorities is the setting up of pop-up bars and restaurants in disused buildings in and around Surrey Street – some of which would be sure to compete for customers with the Dog and Bull, where the landlords have recently invested hundreds of thousands of pounds on their food offer and beer garden. So it’s fair to assume that they might like the opportunity to express a view.
They might also have a view about part of the scheme, as exhibited last night, which proposes “architectural lighting” for… the Dog and Bull.
“It seems incredibly poor behaviour not to invite the people who live and work in this area,” a trader from the market told Inside Croydon. “A tidy-up and decent organisation of Surrey Street would be a good thing, but not letting the people who may well have their lives changed by such plans have their say is terrible.”
Maybe Watson’s just a little nervous that if he lets businesses, traders and residents in on his plans, they might get rejected.
That was certainly the case last night, when stall-holders and market traders at the meeting strongly rejected a key aspect of Watson’s plan for what he regards as a “tatty” market – the erection of large, art installation neon signs at either end of the street, the designs to be overseen by the council’s favoured hipster hang-out, Rise Gallery. The traders want something more traditional and in keeping with the market’s historic status, and at least one historical society is considering submitting strong objections to the planning department.
The disorganised nature of Watson’s plans for the market and his handling of the non-consultation consultation extended to the organisation of last night’s meeting. “A worthwhile commitment to improving Surrey Street market was spoiled by bad organisation of the meeting and lack of understanding by the cabinet member of how consultation should be carried out,” one attendee told Inside Croydon.“They were unprepared for those numbers. They should have had chairs and prepared a proper presentation,” said another.
At Tuesday’s Town Hall scrutiny meeting, Watson was roundly condemned for not involving residents in the discussions so far. Last night’s meeting, Watson admitted to his packed audience, was supposed to be for traders, but more than 40 people turned up in a small room in the Croydon Conference Centre, including several stall-holders who made it very clear that they had not been consulted.
And when one of the fruit and veg stall-holders said that he would like to be able to sell on a Sunday, Watson shut that discussion down.
“The Sunday market has obviously been a roaring success,” said one Surrey Street business operator, “what with the three bloody stalls that are left. That and the near incomprehensible ‘music’ that gets played at a volume the seven bodies outside can’t absorb…”
One of the architects attending the meeting pretty much gave the game away when they said that all their plans had been drawn up in isolation of any feedback or information from traders, residents or shoppers.The next big problem to confront any “regeneration” work down Surrey Street, the meeting learned last night, is the apparent complete absence of any archived information at the council on the whereabouts of utilities – drains, gas and water pipes, phone and electricity cables – along the street.
“That’s what happens when you allow most of your experienced staff in the engineering departments to take redundancy,” one of the last staff still working at the council offices told Inside Croydon today.
The end result for the Surrey Street project, the meeting was informed, is that work to level the carriageway is likely to be done first. And then, once they have all the utility information they need, the contractors will come back, dig a lot of it up again, and carry out the work that might be needed on the pipes and wires.
You really could not make it up.
Sarah Wickens, a Surrey Street resident whose prompting got the council to publicise last night’s meeting at just one week’s notice, told Inside Croydon: “I would have loved to hear Mark Watson present a shared vision for Surrey Street, one developed from a diverse range of opinions and informed by case studies of other street markets. I hope there is still scope for the community to be involved. I don’t think the future of such an important area of Croydon should be based on one person’s personal vision.”
Another attendee, Andrew Kennedy, posted on social media today, “Attending the meeting last night it became clear here that the people holding the real power and influence are the Town Hall officials, the architect who they have contracted and the works contractors whose opinions, methods and materials they seem to bow down to.
“This is confirming my general view that the real influencers with regard to what we get are the officers and the preferred contractors, and not the councillors… There is a need for much more community involvement and full-time professional councillors perhaps. I don’t have all the answers but I know there is a problem and it seems to be an enduring one specific to Croydon.”
Wickens is seeking help and support from businesses, traders, residents and shoppers who have the long-term future of Surrey Street at heart, and ask that they contact her initially at email@example.com.
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