Town Hall reporter KEN LEE has been doing some digging into how a £1.2m ‘improvement’ scheme has driven away businesses from the town’s historic street market
The legacy of Mark Watson’s £1.2million, council-funded artwashing and gentrification of Surrey Street is a 20 per cent reduction in the number of weekday stall-holders working on Croydon’s historic street market.
That’s according to Croydon Council’s own figures, for the number of permanent and casual – temporary – licences issued in January 2017 compared to the number of licence-holders operating this year.
The council figures, from a Freedom of Information response to Inside Croydon, contradict what the former council cabinet member recently told a Town Hall meeting. Watson claimed that the number of stalls on the market had increased.
Watson was the Labour-run council’s cabinet member in charge of business. He infamously dissed Surrey Street as being “tatty”, before clearing the street of stalls for 10 weeks last year to have the road resurfaced, while spending tens of thousands of pounds of public cash on some artwork of dubious merit and with little connection to the marketplace.
Watson is a member of Croydon Labour’s “Gang of Four”, and among the closest colleagues to council leader Tony Newman.
But in January, Watson was bounced out of his £43,300 cabinet post just weeks before the end of the Labour administration and the May local elections. Addiscombe councillor Watson has chosen against seeking re-selection to stand in the local elections, due to growing opposition in his own ward over the Lebanon Road one-way scheme which has been implemented since 2015. Watson lives on Lebanon Road.
Surrey Street’s fortunes have been in steady decline for many years, but the council’s own figures for licensed traders show that Watson’s “improvements” have accelerated that trend.
From 29 or 30 permanent traders six years ago through to 2016, the number of full-time licences has fallen to 23 today; four traders have decided not to bother renewing their licence since Watson’s £1.2million project.
And from a recent peak of 27 casuals in 2014, there are now just 19 casual stall-holders working the market on weekdays.
Indeed, for Surrey Street’s casuals, Watson’s “improvements” actively drove away traders when they were unable to get council permission to trade on North End during the roadworks. Some traders claimed that the changes put them out of business altogether.
And Watson’s “improvements” were questioned, both on grounds of the relatively high costs, and on the merits of the works. The design experts on the council’s own Place Review Panel queried the poor use of signage around the market, they aired doubts about the level of consultation with the traders, and they even deemed some of the proposals to be unworkable.
Watson is thought to have based his claim to a Town Hall meeting about his scheme increasing the number of traders by adding the number of regular weekday traders to those who have taken out cut-price licences for Surrey Street’s Sunday market.
The Sunday Market is another misfiring Watson “innovation”.
Surrey Street’s hard-working regular traders were refused permission to take out licences to operate on Sundays.
The Sunday market has been going for just over a year, but its mix of jerk chicken and artisan bread stalls has already had to be re-launched once. It rarely attracts as many shoppers as the weekday market.
Council figures obtained by Inside Croydon suggest that it has issued more than 80 discounted, Sunday-only casual licences, though anecdotal observations suggest that there’s rarely more than a dozen stalls that actually turn out on Surrey Street on a Sunday.
Shoppers visiting the market for their low-price, good-value fruit and veg today and tomorrow will find about 30 stalls operating.
But even those traders seem likely to be put under further pressures soon, as the council has recently granted an operating licence for Underground 2018, a bar and nightclub which will operate out of the basement of a town centre car park on Charles Street – which is where some Surrey Street traders store their stalls and stock overnight. The arrival of the night club is likely to lose the traders this convenience.
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I’d be really surprised to see that as many as 30 stalls trading in Surrey Street.
Councils across the country are doing what they can to encourage food/fresh produce markets in their town centres. Many would give their eye teeth for a market of the pedigree and potential of Surrey Street.
Only in Croydon.