Another day, another survey that demonstrates that Croydon is slowly deteriorating into decay, poverty and neglect.
The Royal Society of Public Health published a list of “Unhealthiest Streets” this week, and Croydon was the only borough that had three entries in London’s worst 10.
The high streets in Thornton Heath (judged to be London’s third most unhealthy), South Norwood (fifth) and New Addington (sixth) were highlighted as being among the worst for having more fast food shops, bookmakers, tanning shops and off-licences.
A senior Labour politician has described this as “incredibly concerning”.
RSPH’s full list of London’s most unhealthy streets also ranks Norbury (25th) and Addiscombe (40th), together with nearby North Cheam (20th), Penge (24th) and Morden (36th) as places which could do with some improvement.
Earlier this week, a separate survey found that Croydon is the worst London borough for the number of asthma attacks.
These certainly appear to be fairer, more objective assessments of the state of the borough than that held by the council leader, Tony Newman, who has claimed recently, “we are clearly making progress”.
In this latest RSPH report, it found that across the country as a whole, Grimsby was rated as having the most unhealthiest high street, with Edinburgh the healthiest.
Overall, the findings are significant because high streets identified as “unhealthy” under RSPH’s measures tend to be in areas of greatest poverty, where people’s average life expectency can be as much as two and a half years less than for residents living in “unhealthy” areas.
The report has shown that the healthiest areas have an average deprivation score of 19.9, with the unhealthiest coming in with a rating of 26.9.
This week’s findings will be particularly awkward for the leadership of Croydon’s Labour-run council.
Thornton Heath high street is close to the Bensham Manor ward represented by Croydon Labour’s deputy leader Alison Butler.
South Norwood is next to the Woodside ward where Tony Newman, the council leader, and Paul Scott (Butler’s husband) are councillors.
And New Addington’s wards are represented by council cabinet members Simon Hall and Oliver Lewis.
Most recently, Newman and Butler’s council has been spending tens of thousands of pounds of public money on art festivals with shows that “demystify the anus” or on grafitti and “ground art”, some of which has been destroyed when dug up just months later.
Croydon Council efforts to spruce up the high streets in some of the borough’s poorest district centres have had little real impact. Indeed, when some shop fronts in Thornton Heath were given a Balamory-style makeover, with multi-coloured pastel shades, the efforts caused nothing more than derision when the paint washed away in the rain…
Some improvement works may have had some effect, however: a previous list, published in 2015, had New Addington as London’s second most unhealthy high street.
Efforts to further improve living conditions in New Addington, though, have hit serious delays. A new, healthy living-promoting leisure centre was due to open in the autumn of this year. With the council house-builder, Brick by Brick, in charge, the centre will now not be ready to open until 2020, more than 15 months late (while its costs have rocketed from £8million to £25million).
For this year’s survey, RSPH rated the high streets by how many businesses each has which encourage healthy or unhealthy living, to give an overall score. The RSPH report also charts how high streets have changed in recent years – libraries and pubs are closing down, while fried chicken and fast food shops, vape shops and convenience stores are on the up.
On average, a new vape shop has opened every day since 2015, while 18 pubs are now closing each week in Britain.
The number of payday lenders has dropped by one-third since 2015 in the 70 studied towns and cities, and there are fewer betting shops than there were in 2012. Both changes might be attributed to recent changes in national policy.
Fiona Twycross, Labour’s city-wide London Assembly Member, who is a Croydon resident, responded to the RSPH survey by calling for investment to be brought forward by the government “to bring more libraries, leisure centres and healthy food outlets into the community and tackle local levels of inequality”.
Croydon Council this week announced that it has spent £53million on buying the Colonnades leisure centre, where among its biggest attractions are branches of a couple fast food chains.
To combat health inequalities, the Mayor of London proposes to use planning policy to limit the number of fast food outlets that be set up in any area. Twycross said today that she wants the Mayor to push for the more urgent introduction of regulations upon the numbers of payday lenders and betting shops that are allowed, on and around, local high streets.
“It is incredibly concerning that three Croydon high streets feature in this list,” Twycross said.
“It is clear that we need robust regulation put in place to clamp down on the number fast food outlets and betting shops, whose presence can be incredibly harmful to the mental and physical health of local people.
“To tackle local health and social inequalities, it is also essential that public services such as health centres, libraries and skills providers are set up in our community where they are needed most.
“However, to achieve this, we need the government to stick to their word, truly put an end to austerity and begin to properly invest in our grossly underfunded public services.”
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