Croydon’s Labour-run council is not even trying to hide its gentrification agenda for Surrey Street any longer.
Having ripped the guts out of the traditional street market through neglect of its traders and an enforced two-month closure, all done at a cost of more than £1million of public money, the council’s propaganda department yesterday issued a press release announcing the re-opening of its Sunday market, accompanied by a photograph of an “artisan” baker’s stall where croissants are priced at £1 each. Nice.
This for a market place famous for its salt-of-the-earth fruit and veg traders offer value-for-money produce with cries of “Pound a bowl!”
Over the past 18 months, cabinet member Mark Watson, with the backing of the council leader Tony Newman, has been squeezing the traditional life out of London’s oldest street market, starting by making conditions so difficult for long-standing stall-holders that very few are still bothering to trade in Croydon.
The flower stall which had held a pitch at the southern end of the street for decades, presenting a colourful entrance to the market from Croydon High Street, was forced to move to a less advantageous position along the market. Meanwhile, public money was spent on expanding the paving on the other side of the street, so that a branch of Wetherspoons could benefit through sticking some tables and chairs outside, predominately for their nicotine addicts.
While the licence-holding stall-holders were at least given the chance of continuing their business on North End during the closure, casual stall-holders were frozen out of business altogether, given nowhere to trade for eight weeks. Few have bothered to come back.
The market had been struggling for years, and by the start of 2017 it was down to fewer than 50 stalls each weekday. Yet just since the market’s closure in March, even that number of stall-holders has been halved, thanks to the policies of Watson, Newman and Jo Negrini, the council chief executive.
If they intended to clear the market, they have been very successful. If that was not their intention, then they are even more incompetent than was suspected.
Watson is supposed to be Croydon’s small business champion. In six months, he has managed to drive around 20 small businesses off Surrey Street.
But hey: what do those stall-holders, or their families, care? Surrey Street now has some gaudily painted air conditioning units and some second-rate street art, all paid for with tens of thousands of pounds of tax-payers’ money. It must make all the difference.
Last year, under Watson’s auspices, the council issued a specious bit of publicity about the “improvement works” on Surrey Street. It was supposed to justify the £1.1million spend, and claimed that the council had staged “a well-publicised” meeting. In fact, the council meeting was barely publicised at all, until Inside Croydon found out about it from concerned traders and local residents who felt that they were not being consulted.
The council propaganda department claimed, falsely, again, that “overwhelmingly the traders and local business [sic; there did used to be more than one local business on Surrey Street] wanted the initial £500K investment spent on: improving the carriageway – levelling it out (so their stalls are not on the kerb)”.
This was never a priority for the stall-holders, who quite liked their old-school wooden stalls, which were certainly superior to the cheap tat that they have been fobbed off with since the road works, with lightweight gazebos which are dangerous the moment the wind gets up. And if the idea was to keep the stalls off the kerb, that has failed to be put into practice, either.
There was nothing much wrong with Surrey Street which more spending on street cleaning and a full-time market manager would not have helped to fix.
Behind the council bullshit was clearly an agenda to sweep away Surrey Street’s traditional look and appeal, and in some way transform it into something which better suits the developers and landlords who are moving into the town centre.
Watson never much cared for Surrey Street the way it was. He called it “tatty”, and he turned his nose up at some of the value shops, such as Iceland, which trade in the area, and which have been adversely affected both by the road closures and other restrictions imposed for other Watson initiatives, including the Sunday market.
But then Watson – annual council allowances £43,000 – is clearly a big fan of over-priced £1 croissants from an “artisan” baker’s stall. All-butter croissants can be bought from a shop off Surrey Street for a mere 35p each. But maybe Lidl’s “not the sort of shop we want”, as Watson once said of another supermarket in the area.
Last year’s “Investing in Surrey Street Market” propaganda flyer from the council also promised to improve the street lighting, improve signage at each end of the market and provide sign-posting the market from the town centre and railway stations.
The improved lighting is something which barely affects the stalls, who mostly trade during daylight hours, but they might be something needed if, as suspected, Watson’s agenda is to turn Surrey Street into some kind of night-time economy clubbing hub.
Meanwhile, the “artistic” signage at each end of the market has been widely derided as feeble, unclear and ugly. And still there is little or no sign-posting to Surrey Street from the town centre.
The mask slipped on the council’s real gentrification agenda in March, at a conference for billionaire property speculators held in the south of France attended by Negrini.
There, a senior executive from Westfield told the suits in the audience that his company is grateful to Boxpark (built thanks to a £3million loan of public cash authorised by Negrini) for “getting Croydon ready for the £10 burger”.
The egregious revelling in profiteering is enough to make you want to vomit, with or without the greaseburger.
The Sunday market’s return to Surrey Street next month might give it a chance to establish itself as the place to be for Croydon’s cafe society before Westfield finally opens (in 2022, if we’re lucky), by which time 15-quid burgers might be the norm. But that will only happen if the council is more pro-active in recruiting the right kind of traders, from farmers’ markets and trade fairs, perhaps on initial rent-free deals, to bring businesses to the street on a regular basis, and which in turn will attract shoppers.
Alas, there’s little sign of that, with the council press release forlornly appealling for anyone interested in taking a Sunday pitch (for the price of 15 Croydon croissants) to contact the market manager. Pro-active it is not.
A repeat of last year’s damp squib, with only a handful of stalls each Sunday, is not impossible.
And, like last year, Surrey Street’s weekday traders are being excluded from even the possibility of trading on Sundays, though this is probably only sparing them more mishandled misery.
“The return of Sunday market trading will be celebrated,” the council propagandists gushed, “with a launch event which will take place on Sunday September 17 from 11.30am.
“‘Little Canada comes to Croydon’ celebrates the 150th anniversary of Canada and will bring stalls of Canadian street food, Canadian craft beer, cocktails and whiskies and live music to Surrey Street, alongside the new and regular Sunday market traders.”
We know. You can barely contain your excitement.
Watson’s supposed to have said: “Re-launching the Sunday market gives small, independent traders the opportunity to capitalise on Surrey Street’s reputation.” Yep, the same reputation that Watson has spent two years and £1million trashing. No mention or sympathy, though, for the 20 or so small, independent traders who had worked Surrey Street for years, until they were forced off the market in the past 12 months by Watson’s “improvements”.
And then there’s this:
“The council is also keen to hear suggestions from the public on what they would like to see at the Sunday market and people can have their say by taking part in our online poll here.”
The survey provides a surprisingly good number of opportunities for you to tell the council just what you really think about its artwashing gentrification of Surrey Street. Doubtless, the council will ignore anything that does not re-affirm their own chosen course for Surrey Street in just the latest worthless bit of “public consultation”.
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