With the closure of Surrey Street for carriageway works just a few weeks away, as part of a £1.1million regeneration scheme, a meeting held yesterday learned that the council still doesn’t know where the stall-holders are to be displaced for the duration of the works.
The council wants to move the stalls into nearby Exchange Square.
But with the roadworks due to begin in April, time is running out for any legal agreement to be reached with the square’s owners to accommodate the 60-or-so fruit and veg stalls and other traders.
Residents in the nearby yuppie flats, who would have to give their consent to any move of market stalls into the windswept square beneath their homes, have been openly hostile to the idea.
In any case, most of the stall-holders are adamant that they don’t want to give up their place on Surrey Street for two months and move to a venue where there might be little passing trade.
Mark Watson, the councillor in charge of the project, and the council are staging a public meeting in Surrey Street on Thursday night – a meeting which has been noticeably better publicised by the cabinet member and the council than their previous effort, which went unnoticed by some of the bigger players in the 700-year-old market’s economy.
But Watson has already had a meeting with traders this week, on Tuesday, where their opposition to being shunted into Exchange Square was made very clear.
Stall-holders were told yesterday that the carriageway works will take place in April and May. “They’ve got to be finished by June 1, because that’s when council leader Tony Newman has said they have to be finished,” one of the owners of a Surrey Street business who was at Watson’s meeting said today.
Newman, as leader of the Labour-run council which has adopted “Delivering for Croydon” as its slogan, clearly needs something tangible to point to as actually having been delivered, and that isn’t going to be a refurbished Fairfield Halls or the Westfield supermall any time before the next local elections in May 2018.
Making Surrey Street a quick fix within the council’s political timetable, though, may not serve the long-term interests of the majority of businesses and residents there.
And before any roadworks can begin, a temporary home for Surrey Street’s stalls needs to be found. Most of the stall-holders want to move to North End, with the possibility of greater footfall and more trade for them. According to some at the meeting, Watson said he “would look into it”.
Any move of the stall-holders is not without risk.
The absence of the “pound-a-bowl” stalls for six to eight weeks could finally kill off Surrey Street, London’s oldest street market. And if the trade on North End is any good, who’s to say the stall-holders will ever want to move back?
Those who have attended the council’s most recent meetings still have deep-held reservations about some of the things Watson wants to inflict upon them.
“Watson and the council still seem to think that they can stick up some neon lights on Surrey Street and suddenly we’re some sort of hipster Hoxton,” said another market regular.
At the last council-staged meeting, Watson’s scheme for art-installation lighting was roundly rejected by the majority who attended.
Despite such reservations from the people who work and live in Surrey Street, the first piece of “public art” has been fixed underneath the pedestrian footbridge which traverses the market.
It offers some trite aphorism in a neon scrawl which says, “A spruple hello could lead to a Millran hinge”. Or something like that.
The work is by Lauren Baker, and was commissioned by the council’s favourite arts venue, the Rise Gallery, though no one outside the council seems to know of any competition or tendering process that was conducted before Baker was given the work, nor how much public money has being spent on it.
This week, and apparently in the face of the strong opposition to the neon light proposals, the council said that Baker’s sign “is the first of a series of public art pieces to be installed on Surrey Street”.
Watson seems to think that it will “help Surrey Street become a truly vibrant and diverse space”.
This determination to impose these not-so-bright ideas is reinforced by Watson, the cabinet member for economy and jobs, who failed to realise the apparent contradiction in his statement that, “There are many improvements planned for Surrey Street Market and we are keen to hear the public’s views.” And then ignore them and go ahead and do what he planned in the first place.
If you want to share your views about the future of Surrey Street with Councillor Watson, so that you can then be ignored, tomorrow’s public meeting takes place at the Croydon Conference Centre on Surrey Street from 6pm, or – as the council press release states – “If you are unable to attend the feedback event but would like to share your views, please email Councillor Watson directly at firstname.lastname@example.org”.
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