The council’s own set of architecture and design experts have suggested that much of the Town Hall’s £1.1million spend on the gentrification of Surrey Street Market may have not been the best use of public money, Inside Croydon has learned.Croydon’s Place Review Panel was formed by the council at the end of last year to offer guidance on new builds and other schemes around the borough.
In the PRP’s report on the proposals for Surrey Street, seen by Inside Croydon, the design experts have raised a wide range of questions about the works, including poor use of and non-existent signage, they aired doubts about the level of consultation with the market traders, and they even deemed some of the proposals to be unworkable.
The Panel also questioned the wisdom of the biggest single expenditure, the bulk of the £1.1million budget being used for the resurfacing of Surrey Street. Resurfacing forced the closure of the market for 10 weeks, at massive cost in lost business to stall-holders and shops, effectively driving away half of the stalls which had traded on the market as well as many of the local shoppers who relied on the “Pound a Bowl!” value offered by the fruit and veg traders.
Yet months before the works commenced, the Place Review Panel had cast doubt on the whole exercise when they asked “whether resurfacing the highway would be the best prioritisation for the budget available”.
Significantly, the Panel withheld its support for the proposed street art in the market.
Like the shopkeepers, stall-holders and the Croydon residents’ whose money has paid for the street art (also known as over-priced, derivative tatt) that has been championed by Councillor Mark Watson, even the Place Review Panel was denied any preview of the “artworks” to be inflicted upon the 700-year-old street market.
Although the Place Review Panel’s work is paid for out of Croydon residents’ Council Tax, the council has not publicised their report on the Surrey Street proposals. The report was only released to Inside Croydon after a much-delayed Freedom of Information request.
The PRP report damns the Surrey Street “regeneration” with only the faintest of praise. It is easy to work out why Watson and his Town Hall cronies were less than keen for the experts’ judgement to be shared with the people who have paid for his gentrification agenda.Tomorrow, Watson is spending more public money on a “launch” party for the market, forcing the few stall-holders who still work on Surrey Street to pack-up early on what is usually the busiest trading day of the week. Free “drinks and nibbles” will be laid on in the Dog and Bull’s beer garden from 2pm for all those who subscribe to Watson’s Glee Club, with the council cabinet member expected to lap up the adulation with a little speech at 2.30pm.
He’ll need to be very convincing.
“They’re trying to claim now that we’re getting tourists coming down here,” one despairing stall-holder said.
“That’s all well and good. But they only get their cameras out, not their wallets. None of this has helped us at all.”
The Place Review Panel’s report was drafted after a meeting in January – long before the public were granted sight of any of the finalised plans. The session was chaired by Angela Brady, and was attended by the council’s “placemaking” team, led by official Vincent Lacovara, while also in attendance as an “observer” was the often menacing presence of Councillor Paul Scott, one of Watson’s closest colleagues on the council.
Lacovara failed to respond to Inside Croydon’s requests for information about the Place Review Panel’s meetings.
The Panel’s report on says that, “The panel recognised the existing high value of Surrey Street and its assets to the Croydon Metropolitan Centre – the rich mix of historic buildings flanking the street and the vibrancy of the market itself and the local businesses that front it. It felt that the project had great potential to build on these strengths and increase the street’s appeal and visitor numbers…”.Trouble is, since the market was closed for Watson’s road works, the number of stalls trading in Surrey Street has been almost halved. After years of struggle for the traders, Watson’s gentrification works have managed to accelerate the decline of Surrey Street.
Among its recommendations, the Panel said that the junction with Scarbrook Road and Croydon High Street, at the southern end of Surrey Street, “should be designed to give pedestrians priority over vehicles and make it a lot easier for them to cross both the High Street and Surrey Street than it currently is”.
There is no sign that the council has done anything to achieve this.
Watson has in the past been on record as describing Surrey Street Market as “tatty”, but the Place Review Panel described it as “quaint and beautiful”.
They said, “Generally there was agreement that decluttering the street would benefit the appearance of the street. However, it was also suggested that what has been defined as ‘clutter’ as quaint and beautiful such as the various lampposts and power-supply poles at different heights and jaunty angles. The design team should be careful that the end result of decluttering is not a street with a stark and sanitised appearance.” Oh well…On street art, the Panel suggested that, “A rolling programme of temporary public art installations could be a way of maintaining and regularly refreshing part of the appeal of the street.” Some of the work that has been revealed publicly for the first time this week appears far from temporary.
The Place Review Panel also had to indulge the council and their architects, Sam Jacob and Eddie Blake of the Sam Jacob Studio, in a bit of stating the bleedin’ obvious on signage. “It was noted that [rooftop level signage] would be less visible from streets close by to the market as people tend not to look up when they are walking along,” the experts said.
Despite such sage advice, the council and their doubtless very well-paid architects have gone ahead over the past week and placed signs at rooftop level, where they are unlikely to be noticed. Though, given the puerile nature of the signage, that may actually be a good thing.
Elsewhere, the Panel’s advice even chimed with something the market traders have been pleading for for almost two years: more signs around Croydon town centre to guide people to the market.
“Some panel members felt that there should be additional signage for the market at East Croydon Station as new visitors to the area are unlikely to know about the market as it is not visible from the main shopping streets.”
To date, and despite repeated promises from Watson and council officials since they first announced their “regeneration” plans in 2016, no new signs have gone up around Croydon for Surrey Street.
The Panel that sat on this session included Holly Lewis, from a firm called We Made That. Or which might be called “We Made A Packet”, after they worked on the ill-considered street lay-outs for the DisConnected Croydon project, which found dozens of new places to provide seating besides busy roads that no one would ever dream of sitting on.Perhaps Lewis has learned something from her involvement in that previous waste of public money, because in the Place Review Panel’s report on Surrey Street they state, “The extending of the existing steps at the southern entrance to the market to provide seating was questioned. The panel felt this was not an attractive location for seating because it would not provide adequate refuge as it would be located next to busy footways and roads.”
Undeterred, when the street market re-opened earlier this month, the colourful flower stall which had been a feature of the traditional market for decades was denied its regular pitch, as this no longer fitted the council’s “vision” for the market.
Given the near complete absence of anything resembling real consultation, rather than a series of Watson “like it or lump it” diktats, the Panel’s remarks about involving the traders and residents provide an interesting contrast.
“The importance of having a robust trading association was stressed by some members of the panel,” they said, “to ensure that their interests were taken account of in the design and the improvements are cared for by future users of the street.”
None of which was ever done, of course.
If the council submitted its plans for Surrey Street to the Place Review Panel expecting they would provide them with some sort of uncritical seal of approval, then they must have been very disappointed.
Has the council tried to suppress the Place Review Panel’s report?
They certainly have not tried to use it as any sort of endorsement for their work, after the experts highlighted that the £1.1million budget had been misdirected and falls short of what was really required: “It was acknowledged that there would probably not be enough budget available to deliver all the proposals presented and the design team were urged to think carefully about how best to spend the budget for the project on what would have an immediate strong visual impact as well as a lasting legacy for the street.”
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