Watson’s latest whim will see High Street closed to traffic

WALTER CRONXITE reports on a town centre-changing scheme which has been kept a secret from all but just 10 of the borough’s councillors

The stretch of the High Road, viewed from the junction with Park Street, which will soon be closed to traffic. Those no left turn signs will have to be replaced

And now, ladies and gentlemen, from the senior council figure who spent more than £1million on Surrey Street and in doing so managed to halve the number of stalls trading in Croydon’s historic market…

From the same council member who tried to introduce town centre controls which lumped innocent cyclists in with prostitutes and drug dealers…

And from the very same councillor who supported a controversial one-way system in Addiscombe, when it diverted rat-run traffic away from his own home…

… straight from Fisher’s Folly, we bring you the latest Watson Whimsy: al fresco dining outside St George’s Walk.

The council yesterday unveiled, via press release, some limited detail of its plans to pedestrianise a short section of Croydon High Street, between Park Street and Katharine Street, outside the entrance to St George’s Walk. It is an area which has broad pavements on which restaurants and bars such as Nando’s, Turtle Bay and the Milan Bar already have tables outside.

This latest bright idea, from a Labour administration rapidly running out of time before the local elections in May, is enthusiastically championed by Mark Watson, who during his time in office has stumbled from one costly failure to his next abject flop. The pedestrianisation of this stretch of road will, this entrepreneurial genius claims, boost the night time economy by encouraging al fresco dining. We shit you not.

The council hierarchy chose to make the announcement deep into August, less than a week before the summer Bank Holiday. The proposals have never been raised, discussed nor debated at any council cabinet or full council meeting, but work to shut off this section of the town centre to vehicles is due to begin “in early September”, according to the press release.

The Milan Bar on the High Street which already uses the pavement from breakfast to gone 11pm

Usually, when Transport for London wants to change a bus route, even just to move a bus stop a few yards, it is required to consult the public and stakeholders. The Croydon High Street pedestrianisation will impact eight bus routes which currently use Park Street, plus the taxi rank near the corner of Katharine Street. The council may rely on an experimental traffic order to push through the bus route changes, as the public has gone unconsulted about the route changes.

And mere tax-payers are not the only ones being denied any say in the matter. Given the long summer break enjoyed by our councillors, there will not be any opportunity at the Town Hall to debate the scheme until two months after work to close off part of the town centre to traffic has begun. The road closure will be in place by October, with the next full council meeting not due to be held until the end of that month.

Some traders in the area did get a letter from the council a couple of months ago inviting them to a meeting, but consistent with Croydon Council’s usual style, there were few other efforts made to publicise the event, or the plans. Anyone who endured the underhand manner in which Watson presented his “vision” for what he regarded as “tatty” Surrey Street will be familiar with the approach.

And according to council sources contacted by Inside Croydon, the proposal was kept as a secret from all but a maximum of 10 of our elected councillors.

In principle, pedestrianisation of town centres could benefit many.

But this scheme has all the worrying hallmarks of being a Whim of Watson, and not properly thought-through.

Deliveries to shops, diners and galleries on St George’s Walk and on the High Street, already problematical because of traffic congestion, are liable to get even more difficult as buses are diverted on to the road through the 1960s shopping mall or trucks are denied access to parts of the High Street.

This short stretch, between the Post Office and Five Guys, will continue to be open to traffic

The town’s taxi drivers, never ones to keep their opinions quiet, are not likely to welcome having their rank shunted into the siding of Park Street, away from the Town Hall and the greatest amount of footfall.

But the road closure will not be extended to the short stretch between George Street and Park Street. So one of the borough’s newer diners, Five Guys, will never discover whether Watson’s al fresco business theory will work for them.

The changes also mean that anyone travelling, say, from the Town Hall to North End will go from a road bustling with buses, taxis and other traffic, to a pedestrianised area, then to an area with traffic and the tram lines, and then into a pedestrian area.

This mix-and-match approach in less than 200 yards of the town centre will not only affect pedestrians, but also cyclists. Yet the council announcement was entirely silent about whether the newly pedestrianised section will even allow cyclists to ride in both directions. Perhaps they hadn’t even considered the matter?

And just how will nearby businesses benefit?

There was supposed to be a report published in March on Croydon’s night-time economy, undertaken by the council’s scrutiny committee. But nearly six months later, the report is still awaited, with a suggestion from Town Hall sources that it could be about to make an appearance. Might the pedestrianisation scheme be among its recommendations?

The outsized outfitters Big and Tall. Not noted as part of the night-time economy

The pedestrianised area is right outside Cash Converters, Time Bomb (a clothing store) and the outsized suppliers Big and Tall, none of which are known for their role in the night time economy or as providers of dining, whether al fresco or otherwise.

Watson’s workmen are likely to be digging up the road, with all the attendant disruption and inconvenience, just as the Rise Gallery, on St George’s Walk, is staging its high-profile Warhol exhibition and activities.

Will Rise, Watson’s and council CEO Jo Negrini’s favoured art gallery, be able to roll out exhibitions into newly pedestrianised area? Even the people at Rise don’t know, because no one has bothered to discuss it with them.

And there is the question of whether this “new public space” which Watson wants to create is even in the right place. “What’s wrong with Queen’s Gardens?” one Katharine Street source asked, perhaps already guessing the answer, “Apart from the fact that the council is allowing a private developer to build out there over a large chunk of the open space?”

It is hard to see how the new High Street public space won’t, in some way, draw business away from Surrey Street, and so further undermine Watson’s £1.2million “investment” made this year. Watson was keen on pop-up cafés and outdoor drinking, there, too.

Mark Watson: excited by the pedestrianisation plans

But he does not appear to have learned any lessons from that project’s failings, for while he provided more outside space for all-day drinkers at a large pub on Surrey Street, meanwhile half the fruit and veg stalls which used to occupy the market on weekdays have quit, demoralised and abandoned by their local authority.

The council describes the High Street scheme as “part of a 12-month pilot to improve movement across the town centre and boost the night time economy”, saying that it “aims to boost footfall to and from North End”.

There’s been no mention of installing street art in the area, as yet, but as Watson’s involved, something unoriginal, derivative and costing thousands of pounds surely can’t be far away.

Money for the scheme is coming from TfL and the Mayor of London, as well as the council.

“This is an exciting plan for the town centre,” Watson gushed.

“Not only will it make it easier to move around, but it allows for al fresco dining creating a new drinking and dining experience in the town centre.”

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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 Addiscombe West, Croydon Council, Cycling, Fairfield, Jo Negrini, Mark Watson, Planning, TfL, Transport and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Watson’s latest whim will see High Street closed to traffic

  1. I would be very interested to see the Equality Impact Assessment (that is a legal requirement by the Equality Act 2010) as this would appear to make Central Croydon even more inaccessible for people with disabilities and the elderly. However, this Council allowed cycling through North End, which was strongly opposed by organisations representing the disabled, especially deaf and with mobility difficulties, with the result that many disabled people can no longer use North End or consider it too great a risk to visit. Equalities for most sectors of the population does seem to be a low priority with some cabinet members, if even a consideration at all.

  2. Adrian, Croydon Council gives little consideration to the Equalities Act 2010 on any matter. They arrogantly barge their way past such annoyances.

  3. “Boost the night time economy by encouraging al fresco dining” . I didn’t realise that global warming and climate change was that significant in Croydon. It’ll be a combination of dark, cold and wet from no later than 18.00 as soon as the clocks change in October through to March yet the Council will want their pound of flesh for putting tables and chairs out.

    • Nick Davies says:

      You tent it all over with big umbrellas and install lights and patio heaters. Well you do in places 700 miles south of here in places like Cannes, where we send our representatives for their spring break each year.

    • And if the clubs, eateries and bars don’t want it, the taxpayer will have to pick up the tab….as usual

  4. croydonres says:

    We have too many restaurants already in Croydon. That’s why lots of them go out of business. And far too many tattoo-covered p..ssh..ds sitting around all day, outside the ones with tables and chairs, swearing and p….g about. They put decent people off coming to Croydon.

    We don’t need more peder-bleedin’-estrianistaion, we need to get rid of the trams, let traffic back in, have more offices, and workers to spend their money. And have more yuppies. And road sweepers, and all the litter bins emptied twice every f….n day. Then the town will get back its pride.
    And no more poncey public art.

    That’s what my mate says, and he’s a hoodie

  5. Of all the daft, silly ideas this is the daftest and silliest. The Katharine Street/Park Street circuit is an essential circuit in the centre of town. Close that down, as is proposed, and you are going to have traffic backing up all over the place, thousands of discommoded citizens (but who cares about them?) all to improve access to half a dozen undistinguished eateries where the only reason people want to sit outside, winter or summer, is to smoke. There is no other reason. Watson is really in the Boris Johnson league as far as waste of public funds on daft or vanity projecst is concerned.

  6. veeanne2015 says:

    The bus stops in Park Street west are usually crowded, and very convenient for those who want to get on/off near the Park Street/High Road junction for so many purposes.
    Where exactly does Mark Watson think the bus stops should be instead ?
    Do shoppers want to have to lug their purchases all the way up to the centre route through St. George’s Walk or wherever, and isn’t that supposed to be developed sometime anyway.

    Where will vehicles such as Post Office vans who go down George Street and then on to the High Street go from there if the next section of High Street is closed ?

    Don’t those who use the night-time bars etc. in this area want taxis or pick-ups immediately outside and buses opposite for safety after a night out ? Won’t removing access have a detrimental effect on the night-time economy ?
    Closing this bit of road has no genuine benefits, a load of disadvantages, and is a stupid, money-wasting idea !

  7. It is highly regrettable that an ex-councillor who was co-signatory to Croydon council’s 1998 cycling strategy should now criticise the fact that his successors decided last year to formally legalise cycling in both directions 24/7, something that had been the de facto position since North End was pedestrianised in 1989.

    Cycling in pedestrianised areas is not a problem. The Department for Transport said as much over 20 years ago, with government guidance on this matter dating back to 1987.

    Before the council made its decision, concerns about collisions between cyclists and pedestrians – disabled or otherwise – in North End were considered in detail by one of the Council’s staff, an ex-policeman, who pored over 66 hours of CCTV footage to find proof of such incidents. He found none.

    Fortunately, unsubstantiated claims about risks didn’t hold sway then, and the Council voted made a fully informed decision having considered all the evidence. Pandering to the mob with ‘alternative facts’ may be the rage in some parts of the world, but hopefully won’t be adopted now in Croydon.
    Whether or not the High Street is pedestrianised, there are no reasons apart from prejudice and inertia to stop people having the right to cycle in both directions along that stretch of road from Katharine Street to George Street.

    • As you will know, Austen, this site is entirely sympathetic to better and more safe infrastructure for cycling.

      Your comment, though, was posted on the day that a cyclist was convicted for reckless riding after the death of a pedestrian, with the judge’s comments highlighting the need for that infrasttucture on our streets to safely separate those on foot from other road users.

      One “reckless” cyclist does not mean all cycling is bad. But the absence of any suitable infrastructure on North End is, surely, just another example of the thoughtless neglect on cycling by our local authority.

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