CROYDON COMMENTARY: Is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds to pedestrianise a short stretch of Croydon High Street really the answer to the town centre’s night time economy, as the council’s leadership seems to think? LEWIS WHITE, pictured right, doesn’t think so
The main street through Croydon is revealed on the map as being a game of four quarters: London Road at the top end, from Broad Green, with its bustling street full of veg shops, multiple pawn shops and kebaberies, and West Croydon Station; then there’s North End down to George Street, flanked by the Whitgift Centre, Centrale and the old Allders store; then there’s the High Street from George Street, under the Flyover, past Leon House, to the lights at Coombe Road; and finally there’s South End.
Some years back, North End was fully pedestrianised. Trees were planted, it was repaved, and all buses and cars excluded.
I hate to say it, but to me it feels very dead, a place to walk through but not linger in.
It has made me question the wisdom of full pedestrianisation for Croydon. I keep wondering if somehow, the council could have designed it to allow buses to pass along it, keeping public transport at the heart of the shopping area. Maybe in a few years, when all buses are electric-powered, we could reopen it to them keeping the current good air quality but adding back better accessibility and a bit of movement.
More recently, South End has received a similar street makeover, with new paving and lighting. I have to differ from Inside Croydon and several fellow loyal readers on this one, but I think that a good job has been done by the council design team on this area.
And just finished a few months back, London Road has been landscaped, with trees, new paving, and improvements to the faces of buildings, including shop fronts and colourful paint schemes. Each time I pass along this street, I feel that the improvements have made it much more attractive and greener, and have taken away the former sad and run-down look of the street. I like it! I am also visiting it more, and buying things from the shops.
This leaves the High Street section looking very down at heel. The bit from George Street to Katharine Street is quite pleasant, but of course it is blighted by the adjoining semi-dead St George’s Walk precinct and blocks. From the corner of Katharine Street to the Flyover, it’s grimy and very greasy. Not a tree not a decent paving slab. It’s a grim and very unattractive gateway to Croydon.
Thinking about how one could make the High Street into an attractive street which would boost the prosperity of the shops here, I am not convinced that pedestrianisation of a small part of it will deliver a fraction of the desired vitality, or greening, which is desperately needed for the whole length. The High Street looks so crummy, it deserves major investment. It will then provide an attractive focus for existing and new shops, cafés, restaurants and businesses.
Having looked at the street many times, I feel that along the whole of the High Street, from George Street to the Katherine Street corner, the Flyover, and from there to South End, it should be possible to widen the footways on one or maybe both sides, and add small trees to create a “boulevard” effect, and to repave the footways and install new street lighting, all designed to deliver a much greener, livelier and more attractive High Street, that still allows for buses and necessary cars, but with more space for walking, and perhaps for pavement cafés.
The cost of all this would be substantial, and would need to be phased, but it would be worth the investment.
For the High Street, I would therefore like to see two things:
First, from the council, full funding, and an overall streetscape masterplan for the High Street from George Street to the Flyover, and from the Flyover down to the lights at Coombe Road. At night, why not light the Flyover where it crosses the High Street, with coloured light, as has been done over many rail bridges in Southwark and at Waterloo?
Second, from the private sector, but encouraged by the council, a really good design for the redevelopment of St George’s Walk. The new, Chinese owners of the precinct appear to be focusing on the redevelopment into flats of the offices in what we still call the Nestlé Tower. But they are beginning to offer new leases on some of the vacant shop spaces in St George’s Walk, which, at least short-term, is bringing some life back into the place.
But longer term? Why not rip out the precinct to create instead a sheltered and sunny central new park. It could be called “St George’s Gardens”. It would perhaps be closed to the public after midnight, and opened at 7am, to prevent night-time access and the abuses that invariably accompany it. Yes, a private space, as the land is not in public ownership, but opened free to the public with around the inner perimeter, cafés, restaurants and retail shops could take the ground floor units.
The current appearance of the High Street as a whole is so drab, grey and dusty that it fails to provide an entirely welcoming gateway to Croydon town centre from the south. Now that London Road has been landscaped, the approach to Croydon from the North is much improved.
We now need to shift attention to the southern approach, and invest in streetscape revitalisation and greening.
- Lewis White, who lives in Coulsdon, for many years worked as a landscape architect for local authorities in London
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