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.
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…”.
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.
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…
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.
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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