‘Pound a croissant!’ Council continues to artwash Surrey Street

Pound a croissant! Pound a croissant! Having ripped the guts out of Surrey Street’s traditional street market, the council is now pursuing its gentrification agenda, as this image, shamelessly issued by the council’s propaganda department this week, ably demonstrates

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!”

Can you spot the gap in the market? Surrey Street this week. So few stalls are left that there’s little to draw in the traditional customer. Notice, too, how the stalls straddle pavement and the road

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.

‘Tatty’: Mark Watson, the councillor behind the Surrey Street ‘improvements’

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.

The council’s promises over Surrey Street from a year ago. The claims are based on spin, untruths and a barely hidden agenda

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.

There’s hardly any stalls left on Surrey Street, but the aircon units look lovely, don’t you think?

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.

It would be interesting to see how many respondents subvert this wretched process by ticking the box marked ‘Other’ and putting “None of the above” as their comment

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”.

  • Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
  • Inside Croydon is the borough’s only independent news source, and still based in the heart of Croydon
  • From April to July 2017, we averaged 33,000 page views every week
  • If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or a local event to publicise, please email us with full details at inside.croydon@btinternet.com

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Business, Croydon Council, Jo Negrini, Mark Watson, Surrey Street, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to ‘Pound a croissant!’ Council continues to artwash Surrey Street

  1. With all the work done on it Surrey Street Market has finally achieved fame. It is now in the same category as the Blue Parrot of Monty Python fame, an ex-market, never to run again. Why couldn’t they just have left the whole darn thing alone? There was nothing wrong with it at all. It had character in all sorts of ways and a bit of grime, sign of history. Instead they tried to prettify and gentrify it and it just hasn’t worked. Waste of our money and the council’s time. As the renowned Apricot Haired Tweeter so frequently says: Sad!

  2. derekthrower says:

    Interesting that the Council have allowed a smoking concession for the Wetherspoon’s Milan Bar since they are desperate to join the exodus away from Surrey Street.

  3. Lewis White says:

    I have visited Surrey Street twice since the improvements, on a Saturday at 5pm, and Friday at 3pm.

    Whilst I think some of the public art fails to deliver much to making a better street or market, I have to say that I liked the multi-coloured air con units, which brighten up a very grim corner !

    The main roadway remains black tarmac, but I think that the new paving on the footways and stall pitches does make the place look much better, and the colourful stall canopies bring cheer to a formerly grey street. In the 1960’s and 70’s and even the 80’s, the market was so well populated by stalls and the buying public, it was standing room only (mid yer backs!) and was crammed with colourful produce,and the many colourful characters of the market, mainly cheeky cockney types, some of whom seem to be still hard at work even today.

    The public’s buying habits since then have become even more supermarket focused, but thankfully, many recent immigrant populations and some others still like buying fresh fruit and veg that is not entombed within a clingfilm web, or crinkly plastic wrapper. Amazing bargains were and still are, to be had, like boxes of mushrooms, ultra cheap, ripe (and deliciously sweet) fruit etc etc.

    Sadly, just because of the busy-ness of working and family life, and the decline of the vitality of central Croydon, my own visits to the market and to the town centre slumped from monthly to twice or yearly for recent decades. Part of this was the cost of parking, but mainly that Croydon just looked run down and unappealing.

    However, in the last few years, I have been coming in to town by bus, and have been visiting Surrey Street again, albeit sad to find very few stalls, and a narrow choice of produce, relative to the good old days, when Surrey and Kent growers sold salad and veg produce into the market. Many of these market gardeners are no longer growing, a sad fact which Surrey Street can’t influence.

    The standing-room-only popularity must have disappeared along with punters like me. Of late, stalls have been rattling around very like peas in an almost empty pod. A really sad turn of events for all concerned.

    I have been following the Inside Croydon features on Surrey Street with a combination of concern, and anger (to hear how existing stall holders have been treated) and at the so-called consultation, which has clearly happened with a minimum of advance notice, and seemingly a bizarre reluctance to value the thoughts and livelihoods of stallholders. The design seems to have been rushed through, and there seem to have been no design options prepared, a real shame.

    Particularly weird to me is the way in which the project seems to be the personal project of one councillor who seems to dictate much of what happens. Surely, this project should have been the subject of genuine high profile public consultation? .

    Having said that, I think that the results, in terms of paving and the coloured canopies, are generally good, practical, and robust. The use of dark coloured paving reflects the grimy nature of the market environment. Pale coloured paving in this context would have looked stained and grubby within days. The open texture of the central tarmac roadway will, however, be impossible to keep clean, and will be clogged with gloop within a short time.

    Will the market recover?.
    Well, I hope so, and I think will happen, as there are still good stalls, with good produce, and staff. I asked a few stallholders if trade is improving (in spite of the very poor summer weather). I got a “yes, I think so” type answer. The reason I think is that the paving and coloured canopies and other improvements have made the environment more pleasing, and will make existing people rediscover the market, and bring new ones in.

    Make the market accessible by letting buses back along the whole of adjacent High Street to re-link West and South Croydon with the middle !

    I have seen a number of London markets but am no expert. I’m not a lover of overpriced trendy goods, nor of tat. What I like to see, and buy, in a market, are fresh veg, fruit, fish, and if possible, real bread, cheese, pies, and some “street food” and maybe craft items.

    Croydon isn’t too trendy for its shirt, and what works in one part of London won’t necessary work in another. I hope that many of the new residents moving into flats in the town centre will use the Market , and a bit of trendification, but not too much, must be a good thing, if it lets the market live again.

    My own preferences are irrelevant, but the key thing must be for vitality and busy-ness and support from all types of customer..

    To fill the market with a variety of stalls, so that there are no empty pitches, must surely be the goal? Are new market traders encouraged with lower rentals for the first year?
    It would be great to see more variety in the market, and I wish it well.

    Finally, in my view the council is very wrong to exclude fresh fruit and veg from the Sunday market.
    What –with an obese population whose diet is high on junk food and low on veg and fruit– we should be subsidising the market stalls that sell fresh real food!

    Lewis White (an obsese loyal reader trying to get thinner)

Leave a Reply