That’s how many stalls were trading on Surrey Street on Saturday, the first weekend of trading since the 10-week closure for a £1.1million council revamp of the street market.
The market was once the home to more than 100 stalls on a weekday or busy Saturday. Even before the enforced closure, there were usually around 40 stalls trading in Surrey Street on a typical market day earlier this year.
The “improvements” to Surrey Street have been overseen by Councillor Mark Watson, supposedly Croydon Council’s “small business champion”. Councillor Watson is refusing to take questions from Inside Croydon about how spending more than £1million of public money and managing to drive away half the stall-holders from Croydon’s 700-year-old street market can be regarded as “championing” small business.
Those traders that remain working on the market are unhappy about the new layout imposed upon them, angry that they have been stripped of their traditional market stalls, and others are irritated that they have lost some of their prime positions in the market. Many now question whether there is any future for their traditional, good-value offering.
It was a grim week for traders since their return last Monday, with the heavy showers and downpours effectively washing out two days’ trading.
But the writing is on the floor for Surrey Street stall holders: once the road contractors moved out, it revealed just 60 pitches marked on the street – less than half the number of pitches which used to be available on the market.
The £1.1million resurfacing was supposed to make it easier for shoppers to move through the market. Now the space between the stalls appears to be narrower. Stall-holders are also concerned that their stalls have to be positioned too close to the pavement.
One or two shop frontages have been given a makeover of sorts.
The council has also spent money providing space by the Dog and Bull pub to have Café Society-style tables and chairs on the pavement outside the traditional old boozer – even though the pub recently invested heavily in a beer garden and food offering at the back of the premises.
Not for the first time, Watson – an advocate of trendy pop-up bars – and his mates at the council haven’t quite thought this through: Surrey Street is in a control zone, where drinking on the public highway is banned… by Croydon Council.
Many stall-holders and shoppers are accusing the council, and cabinet member Watson, of deliberately running down the market in pursuit of a gentrification agenda.
In the past, Labour councillor Watson has described Surrey Street Market as “tatty”.
Watson has authorised the spending of at least £15,000 of tax-payers’ money on two pieces of street art in Surrey Street.
But Watson’s promised signage for the market, requested by traders to direct shoppers from North End to the traditional London street market which has operated on Surrey Street for more than 700 years, has still not been put in place, more than a year after the councillor gave a commitment for it. Watson has told some that these will be “Phase 2” works.
The declining number of stalls surveyed on Saturday is a worrying trend – but some residents and traders believe it is part of Watson’s scheme to “artwash” away the more down-to-earth, working class elements of the market.
Some traders gave up before the move, unhappy that the council was only running-down the market, making trading conditions more difficult for them. When stalls were moved on to North End in March while the roadworks were underway, only traders with annual licences were accommodated. Around two dozen casual traders were given no where to trade, and so most drifted away, taking their businesses elsewhere, if they could.
For the shops left behind during the roadworks, they endured 10 weeks of a drastic fall in footfall, with some reporting takings down by as much as £800 per day.
“Stall pitches set in stone – neater and more space for pedestrians,” Watson tweeted last week, his obsession with tidiness shining through again. “Artwork, lighting and signage to be in place for launch event on 24 June”. No explanation, nor apology, has been offered for why these essential elements were not completed during the 10-week closure.
“What a lot of us can’t understand is where the money’s gone,” one angry trader told Inside Croydon. “Take a look – that’s never been £1million-worth of works done here.”
Another emailed to say, “A lot of traders feel that they have been misled by Croydon Council.
“There’s none of the promised new lighting. They forced the traders at the top to move down the street, yet they gave the traders at the bottom more space.
“They have been given pitches that should have been offered the longer serving traders. We’ve lost our proper, old-style stalls, and now there’s only gazebos, but they haven’t put in any anchor points to hold them down.
“What a complete waste of money.”
Others accuse the council of wrecking the traditional character of the market. “We’re disappointed with the work that’s been done,” said one.
“I just don’t like the idea of someone sitting in an office telling me how to do my job.”
One resident, Andrew Kennedy, who attended some of Watson’s “consultation” meetings over the past year or more, said, “This is not how I envisaged it.
“I’m concerned that this will not bring about the resurgence of Surrey Street Market and out-of-hours change of use. It looks as though the heavy hand of a bureaucratic official has been at work here.
“Imaginative suggestions have been sucked out of the scheme plus some rigid ones imposed.
“I doubt that being rigid with bays marked out in stone was a good idea.This has been a council official-led the development and I suggest even overriding the architect’s ideas who was brought in to improve the area.
“On first look, I am very disappointed.”
- Check out Lee Townsend’s photographic record of how Surrey Street used to be on a typical market day, before the £1.1million “improvements”
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