“Good progress is being made on the improvement works to Surrey Street and the project remains on schedule to finish in early June,” was the party line pumped out by Croydon Council, four weeks into its £1.1million project.
But shopkeepers who continue to trade while the stalls have been displaced to North End and Queen’s Gardens report a crippling loss of trade in the absence of Surrey Street’s traditional traders.
One cafe, which relied on stallholders buying teas, coffees and bacon rolls through the long trading hours, reckons its business is down by 65 per cent since the road works started on March 27.
And the manager of another shop told Inside Croydon that their takings were down by £800 last Saturday compared with their usual turnover on the busiest trading day of the week.
“It just goes to show how much we rely on the stalls being here to help bring in the business,” a shopkeeper said yesterday.
“Business has been really quiet since the stalls moved out. And they reckon we’ve got another five weeks of this at least before we can try to get back to normal.”
Some shops admit that they are considering reducing the hours of work of some of their casual workers while the downturn in trade continues. “We just can’t afford to have someone standing in the shop if there’s so few customers coming in,” one shop manager said.
Work on the scheme has been pushed forward at the Town Hall by council leader Tony Newman and one of his close clique of Labour councillors, Mark Watson, who has described the traditional street market as being “tatty”.The works conducted so far appear to comprise mainly of creating a level area where stalls will be positioned, using small setts which are expensive and time-consuming to lay and tend to be difficult to repair or replace.
The council says that the works conducted so far “include new levelled pavements, improved drainage and new cabling to support an upgraded street lighting scheme”. There was no mention from the council’s propaganda bunker in Fisher’s Folly of Watson’s favoured “street art”, though the neon signage which Watson had commissioned for £10,000 still hangs from the bridge above the street.
According to the council, “Shops and cafes along Surrey Street remain open to the public and are trading as normal.”
Not according to one out-of-pocket shop-owner: “If this is ‘normal’, I might as well pack up and move out now.” The shopkeeper expressed some concern at the apparently slow pace of progress of the work so far, which is being conducted by contractors Kier, whose work on other road projects around Croydon has tended to be completed later than scheduled.
The shopkeeper also confirmed that their erstwhile neighbours, the stallholders, have been enjoying improved trading since the move to the easier-to-access North End. “Some of them are already saying that they don’t want to come back,” the shopkeeper said. “But the council won’t let them stay on there once the works have finished.”
According to Watson, the council’s small business champion, “I am really pleased with the progress being made on Surrey Street and would like to thank everyone for their patience while these crucial works are carried out.
“The contractors are continuing to work hard to deliver the scheme, so the new upgraded and lively market that will rival some of the best in London, can reopen as quickly as possible.”
Watson failed to elaborate on when that reopening date might be.
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