Watson’s shambolic meeting leaves Surrey Street in the dark


Croydon council leader Tony Newman, left, and Mark Watson have readily worn symbolic white ribbons

Value for money? Council leader Tony Newman, left, and Mark Watson

That’s how much Mark Watson, the councillor in charge of the gentrification project around Surrey Street, reckons it has cost to install the first piece of “street art” on the footbridge that crosses the old street market.

And this at a time when Watson’s closest colleagues in the clique that controls the council are constantly repeating the mantra that “value for money is at the heart of all we’re doing”.

The £10,000 figure for the neon signage with the illegible platitude emerged during the latest meeting about Watson’s plans to gentrify the market. “A spruple hello could lead to a Millran hinge”, or something like that, was put in place earlier this month, and is by Lauren Baker, who has had work exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery, don’tchaknow.

At first, Watson was reluctant to tell the meeting any figure for the cost of commissioning and installing the art, which is being paid for out of the £1.1million budget he has secured out of public funding. “I don’t know,” the Croydon Council cabinet member for the economy and jobs said, with a perhaps worrying lack of finger-on-the-pulse.

It's not just in Cannes that Croydon provides free beer. They do it in bottles, too

It’s not just in Cannes that Croydon provides free beer. They do it in bottles, too

When pressed, though, Watson suggested that the neon sign will have cost as much as £10,000. That’s more than three times what some who work in the art business estimated it might have cost Council Tax-payers.

But Watson, the councillor with a spent conviction for fraud, was keen to tell anyone who’d listen that the idea that he has a gentrification agenda for the 700-year-old market was “fake news”.

Watson arranged Thursday’s meeting, it was claimed in the council’s own bumpf, for residents and business-owners to “Come along to share your ideas to help spruce up Surrey Street”. Yes: “spruce up”.

But there were no guarantees that anyone’s ideas other than those of Watson and his mates will ever be put into action, however much market traders and the hundreds of local residents object to some of the more self-indulgent feats of whimsy that the councillor and his chums come up with.

Last month, a meeting of market traders roundly rejected the “vision” for neon signage at either end of the market. Since when, the neon bridge sign has been installed and the latest meeting had it confirmed that Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison, Jo Negrini’s favourite art gallery owner who commissioned the 10-grand Baker bridge thing, is still working on yet more neon signs for the market.

The more cynically inclined will identify events such as Thursday’s “engagement meeting” as being mere box-ticking exercises in lip-service to what passes for “consultation” at our local authority. When something is later imposed on the ungrateful wretches of the public, the council will turn round and tell them, “Ah, but we had x consultation meetings with you…”.

Work on Surrey Street is due to begin in little more than a month's time. But the council's plans are still only sketchy

Work on Surrey Street is due to begin in little more than a month’s time. But the council’s plans are still only sketchy

The timing of Thursday night’s gathering was odd, too, given that Watson, who is supposedly the cabinet member for the economy and jobs, was missing a planning meeting at the Town Hall which was discussing plans for possibly the largest council-backed regeneration project Croydon has ever seen, at Fairfield Halls and College Green.

This entirely foreseeable clash in the Labour council’s diary meant that Surrey Street’s ward councillors, who are Tories, had to scurry away from the Croydon Conference Centre’s market meeting to the Town Hall to discuss the £30million housing and arts centre project. Was the timing deliberately inconvenient?

The Surrey Street gathering attracted more than two dozen traders, shop-keepers and Croydon residents, but the event was a bit of a shambles.

Yes, the Labour-run council had bottles of ale laid on – from the same brewery which supported Tory MP Gavin Barwell’s election campaign, no less – to prove that you don’t have to go to the South of France to enjoy beer on the rates. This was bottled beer, not Cannes, though.

Ahead of Thursday's meeting, Councillor Watson 'engages' while one of his flunkies sets up the projector...

Ahead of the meeting, Cllr Watson ‘engages’ while someone sets up the projector…

... when the porjector failed to work, Watson stepped in to take charge...

… when the projector failed to work, Watson – with a £1.1million budget to ‘spruce up’ the ‘tatty’ street market, stepped in to take charge…

... but after the projector blew a fuse, so did Watson, leaving everyone in the dark about his gentirification vision for Surrey Street

… but after the projector blew a fuse, so did Watson, leaving everyone in the dark about his gentrification vision for Surrey Street

But when it came to displaying the plans, the projection system broke down, and one of Watson’s team had to resort to holding up the pictures on his little lap-top. That’s always a risk when you opt for PowerPoint rather than actually speaking, and listening, to people.

AIt does rather make you wonder about how we’re expected to trust these people to organise and manage a complex project costing more than £1million.

In truth, if was not only the projector issue which left those attending the meeting as much in the dark as they have been ever since Watson first announced his “vision” nearly a year ago. And with Watson’s political boss at the Town Hall, council leader Tony Newman, demanding a June 1 completion date for the Surrey Street works, it is not unreasonable to fear that we’ll get a rushed job as well as a botched job.

Watson did confirm to the meeting that Kier – the contractors who have been given so much council money for DisConnected Croydon street works over the past six years – would be handed the carriageway works, too.

The works, which the expensively retained architects claim will “develop the character of the market”, in the main seem to involve narrowing the road way to make it more difficult for shoppers to visit the stalls, but make it easier for the council to allow “pop-up bars and restaurants” to set up for what they are describing as “al fresco dining”.

The “streetscape” is “developed in conjunction with Croydon’s Rise Gallery”, they tell us. So definitely no signs of gentrification here, then…

Some of the material presented on Thursday, with the usual line in architetct-speak

Some of the material presented on Thursday, with the usual line in architect-speak

Among other admissions on the night were that Watson – who recently described the market as being “tatty” – had blocked the existing fruit and vegetable stalls from his Sunday market because they make too much mess (he didn’t use the word “tatty” on this occasion), and the costs of clearing up afterwards are too great. Meanwhile, £10,000 for a neon sign is just fine…

He claimed that the desire to have illuminated signs – which most had supposed would be to attract people to the market at night, long after the stalls have been put away – is so that people feel less threatened in Surrey Street when it’s dark. He didn’t mention whether something as simple as better street lighting had been considered.

But Watson did say that, even at this late stage, he had no real idea of how much the carriageway works would cost, and therefore no idea what budget would remain to pay for the fancy light fittings and bits of street furniture that have been outlined so vaguely in his “plans”.

Watson seemed desperate to demonstrate his working class credentials, in a manner not seen since another Blairite, Peter Mandelson, confused mushy peas in a northern chippy with what he thought might be guacamole.

Watson told the meeting that his parents were market traders, though he was a bit vague about what or where… “all sorts of things, erm… bric a brac”, he said, unconvincingly, when asked.

Fake: Mark Watson

Fake: Mark Watson

Watson left it to the architect, from Sam Jacob Studio, to bandy around empty phrases such as “wayfaring”, “public realm” and “a palette of colours”. No one mentioned any bright ideas for actively helping long-standing Surrey Street stall-holders and traders – whose number diminish by the week – by promoting the value-for-money offer of the market. But there’s definitely no gentrifying agenda going on, oh no.

In fact, those stall-holders who had bothered to turn up to air their ideas and then be ignored, appeared quite worn down by the whole thing, too concerned about their own livelihoods being under threat by the grandiose plans, and some of them by now scared to speak out too much for fear of losing their pitch licence.

Watson clearly found the whole experience something of a strain.

One small group claim that they felt that he was angry and aggressive towards them at the meeting’s end, as they declined the offer of the council’s free beer, preferring instead to go to the genuine old boozer on Surrey Street, the Dog and Bull.

“I could put up a pop-up bar outside the Dog and Bull,” were the passing words to the group from Councillor Watson, who has spent £10,000 on one piece of “street art” but really does not have a gentrification agenda for Surrey Street market.

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This entry was posted in Art, Business, Connected Croydon, Croydon Council, Environment, Fairfield, Jo Negrini, Mark Watson, Planning, Rise Gallery, Street lighting, Surrey Street, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Watson’s shambolic meeting leaves Surrey Street in the dark

  1. mikebweb says:

    Well I thought that we were told that the scheme will include new lighting so that at midday, at the height of the midday sun from the south which shines directly down Surrey Street, there will be – well what will there be, in competition with our very own sun? The street lights have only just been replaced. Again I thought Mark Watson had agreed that neon signs at the top end – there is no room at the bottom end, we were told, but we will think of something – were not the answer nor was a grand Victorian arch.

    Hey, stop here a minute – this scheme is just about to start and will be finished by June (2018 or later?) and we have not yet decided what to do at the two most visible entry points? We haven’t also decided what and where street art will be incorporated with the new lighting, have we?

    The new shop fronts will be nice – I bet the dog and bone will be delighted with a new frontage, and the close by new building – what are they going to have done, may be they will even be occupied after, how many years, since they were built. Crisis has moved in to another, but what can they offer the market attending public in the day time or the evening yuppies?

    Few of the hundreds of Croydon people objecting turned up at the meeting and even the market traders were noticeably by their absence. So what is going to happen now; well the market stalls are moving (somewhere) while the street is upgraded, which, judging by the speed of other similar schemes stands no chance of being finished in three months. The artistic impression of the “gentrification” shows tented stalls of uniform appearance – the traders did not even ask where their present wheeled stalls fit in.

    When finished, if the current schemes go ahead, we seem to be having a Fruit and Veg Market in the day time and a yuppy floodlight area at night with pavement traders providing for the masses from the flats being constructed in the Whitgift Centre area and other parts of town. Will those in and around East Croydon be attracted away from Box Park (now the council wont like that if they do) or are they just staggering back to their overnight pads after a convivial evening in the City and West End Bars after a long days work?

    As with the proposed Whitgift Centre development, I put my money on this being a lost cause!!
    BUT, let’s be pleased that our council are using money they can obtain from outside the council resources, if its not used here where can they use it?

    Oh one suggestion was to have a neon sign hanging across North End with a directing arrow down Crown Hill which is likely to be seen by more people than the proposed signage high above Barclays Bank which will be largely invisible to the public except from the High Street.

    Mike B

  2. Al Fresco,the answer to everything, solves all social problems. The Young stop mugging & stabbing because now the population is sitting down consuming a macchiato out side, whilst consuming a croissant. How very bourgeois, how very continental, how very New Labour!

  3. davidjl2014 says:

    For God’s sake resign………. “It’s elementary my dear Watson”

  4. There does seem to be a fair amount of truth extension going on here.
    For a kick off, a great deal of the traders in Surrey Street these days are very new. Indeed Id say no more than a handful can be considered long term Surrey Street residents. So taking this on board its a bit churlish to complain about any works in Surrey Street being bad for the traders.
    One area I do agree on is that there is no reason why all traders should not be able to pitch up on a Sunday, which is a pitiful site when there are normally no more that ten stalls.
    Gentrified or whatever, Surrey Street really is in need of a huge lift. I don’t care if it does encourage different types of venders, be they artisan bakers or anything else.
    The simple fact is Surrey Street as we have all known it, has pretty well died. I hope that it can be kept going, but I also don’t see the point in throwing tens or hundreds of thousands at the place for the sake of half a dozen traders. The only thing that can be done for the place, is to keep the rents down, keep it clean and keep it safe. Then let it run itself.

    • mikebweb says:

      Well, David, I cannot comment on the number of long term traders, but I do know that the place is a hive of activity in the mid to late afternoon, especially on Friday/Saturday. Evenings are totally dead except for the Dog and Bone, but its a household fruit and veg market, so what does one expect?

    • Funnily enough, keeping the market clean – a long-term issue – keeping pitch fees low and keeping the street safe at night were among the top priorities of the stall-holders, shop-keepers and residents when Watson first suggested he might have someone else’s money to spend in Surrey Street.

      Now they find little is being done to address those fundamentals, but instead the council’s throwing tens of thousands of pounds at lighting artists and providing al fresco dining areas.

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