By taking away the buses, they’ve cut off shops in town centre

CROYDON COMMENTARY: As the council abandons 10 years of delusion over the retail regeneration of the town centre, regular reader LEWIS WHITE, right, goes on a shopping trip to witness the state of the Whitgift Centre for himself

Whitgift Centre 2019

After a decade of uncertainty, the Whitgift Centre is a slowly decaying, little-visited shell

I popped into the Whitgift Centre a few days ago to see if my favourite shirt shop (a well-known company based in Jermyn Street) was still trading in this post-covid, lockdown world.

I had been informed, thankfully wrongly, by someone working in central London that their Croydon branch was no more. So I was delighted to find that the Croydon outpost is still trading.

According to the staff, the Whitgift Centre branch is one of the company’s most profitable branches. Apparently, during lockdown, customers had emailed the company HQ to demand that Croydon reopened at the earliest opportunity.

I bought my shirts (lovely quality) and enjoyed reconnecting with the friendly staff.
They certainly know the meaning of customer service.

It’s amazing that, in spite of the many empty shops around them in the Whitgift Centre, their products and service seems to bring customers like me back, year on year. As I can’t keep a shop going alone, there must be many others who appreciate this shop and the service its superb staff give.

After leaving the shop with my new shirts, I walked past a well-known national chain of fashion retailers who cater for women, and wondered why, in this day and age, the shop window mannequins were all “white”. Has the management of the store not realised that it needs to welcome everyone to its stores?

The Whitgift Centre: the mall is crying out for some kind of regeneration

The empty shops are sad, and the area is crying out for some kind of redevelopment scheme, even though that is now not going to be as originally promised by Westfield and Hammerson, and is liable to take even longer.

It could become a new combination of shops, flats and new, open spaces, as well as the covered malls.

En route to Whitgift, I had walked along much of London Road, and enjoyed the feeling of West Croydon’s bustle and ethnic shopping mix, buying some flat breads in a large clay pot, and some fresh fruit that was not wrapped in plastic. This road is open to road traffic.

I appreciated the fact that the council renewed the footways and planted some street trees just a few years back. These have made the area feel greener and fresher, but the footways are getting dirty and need steam cleaning to avoid them getting greasy again. It’s something which is done regularly in the more central area, as part of the service provided by the Croydon Business Improvement District. But that area stops at West Croydon railway station…

I walked along two sections of North End’s pedestrianised high street and was amazed that the majority of the smaller shops there still seem to be trading.

High pressure: much-needed street cleansing goes on in parts of the town centre, but only in the area where traders pay to be part of Croydon BID

The trouble with pedestrianisation, though, is a strange feeling of life at half-cock. A talented violinist was performing to a small but appreciative crowd, but the fresh air did not really make up for the unnaturally quiet street.

Then I got to the once-bustling area by Allders, the junction of George Street and Crown Hill, and the middle section of Croydon High Street. Allders has long gone, and now Debenhams has followed it.

It felt like and looked as if aliens had abducted about 80 per cent of the people you’d normally have expected to encounter here. Was this due alone to the redevelopment of St George’s Walk? Or to the absence of buses ?

High time: changes to bus routes and the closing of bus stops has radically changed part of the town centre

The High Street, from George Street along outside the old Grant’s building, down as far as  the Flyover, has been divided up to create two-way cycle lanes, protected by long lines of bollards, and empty tarmac where buses once plied their trade. There were no buses going southwards.

The bus stops – formerly packed with people queuing to travel southwards and to many points east and west – were closed. The streets were empty of people — buses, traffic and even bikes, other than one cyclist on the pavement.

I was now laden with fruit and veg as well as shirts, and I had to lug my bags down beyond the Flyoverto find a bus stop. It was quite a long way. Is this a permanent arrangement? What exactly is happening here?

Is this the way to help people travel by bus? Is this the way to help the beleaguered market and shop traders of the nearby Surrey Street?

For a town centre, it was all eerily empty.

I then noticed that the Town Hall is fronted by thousands of bollards, very reminiscent of Northern Ireland in the Troubles. Are the council worried that angry residents will stage demos and attack the Town Hall? The municipal area is bollarded off, so no buses, cars or taxis can now pass by, never mind stopping outside it.

It seemed to me to be another separation between the people of Croydon and the council that is supposed to serve them.

On the way home, Purley and Coulsdon seemed to be thronged with people. There, the buses still stop right outside the shops.

I was glad to escape the people-deserted middle of Croydon. I felt very sorry for the traders and wondered whether the council really wants the town centre to survive and thrive?

Do we really need panels of experts to tell us that accessibility for shoppers by bus is key to success of the high street? If we do, get Mary Portas down and let her and her team tell it the way it is.

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This entry was posted in "Hammersfield", Allders, Business, Centrale, Croydon BID, Debenhams, Surrey Street, TfL, Transport, West Croydon, Whitgift Centre and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to By taking away the buses, they’ve cut off shops in town centre

  1. Super article.

    It is clear now that Croydon as a shopping centre has no future unless the council follows other boroughs, and really encourages, supports and helps individual small shops, as has happened in Tooting.

    There is room and trade for one or two biggish shops, M&S for instance, but the whole shopping model is now changed.

    Now that the demise of Hammersfield is formally acknowledged the whole playing field has changed. Megastores have had their day, smaller shops with individuality will thrive.

    But will the council ever see that? I doubt it.

  2. mike says:

    croydon has transport access north eaast south and west as well as the tram..who wants a town centre full of traffic and all the pollution it entails ….the problem is that croydons retail centre has been in need of redevelopment for years….its really grotty now and like many others I mainly shop elsewhere like Kingston

  3. Adrian Cowie says:

    Yes , indeed, the 433 bus stop which used to be opposite the last stop in the centre has gone and I now have to trudge down to East Croydon Station for the bus home laden with shopping. They seem to be making it harder for people to travel by public transport, rather than easier. I don’t know if that’s down to tfl or this dreadful wasteful council.

  4. Melvyn Harrison says:

    Maybe one way to to increase north end footfall would be to unpedestrianise north end and get the buses and cars back there again

    • Nick Davies says:

      How does being able to drive along North End help matters? You’ve still got to park somewhere, which never was a problem.

      • miapawz says:

        I do park in the multistory but it’s expensive and a drama. A bit more road parking or easy access parking would help. Croydon is v expensive to park.

  5. miapawz says:

    people are rude about cars but people need them and they bring trade. so let people park and bring trade.

    • There’s plenty of space to park in Croydon. But not everyone has use of a car, nor wants to use their car for straightforward shopping trips or visits.

    • Kizza says:

      Why do you love cars so much, do you enjoy the pollution or something?

      • miapawz says:

        I live somwhere up a very steep hill, where there is not much public transport – no bus within reasonable distance – and where Southern have cut the trains by 70%. Also I am older and can’t carry heavy stuff. A car helps me do that.. And no I don’t understand Uber or want to. I like to have a car.. a small petrol car with low emissions.

    • Anthony Miller says:

      There’s loads of parking at the Whitgift Centre including the car parks that used to serve the now empty offices. The Centre could be profitable with some minor adaptions if only its owners weren’t determined to run it into the ground by never fixing anything and threatening to boot everyone out all the time. No one wants to make a long term promotional investment in something that won’t exist in 12 months.

  6. Geeson says:

    Cut the rent on shops and get the empty shops open again Croydon has become a dump

  7. julieclifton1 says:

    Such a shame , born in Croydon, live on isle of wight now. I remember when whitgift centre went up . Everyone travelled their for shopping experience. Buses on the high street ( thought having visited it is pedestrian only) shopping has now changed, so shops have to re-invent themselves. 💓.

  8. Hazel swain says:

    public transport should be allowed back along North End….. reduce the rents and get some decent shops that dont sell cheap tat. or failing that shut up shop all together and shop somewhere that does offer a good service .

  9. Mary Guruparan says:

    Excellent article. I do believe that pedestrianisation of town centres is passè and a death knell. They serve nothing and the loss of passing transport kills businesses. Croydon needs a rethink. Be radical, unblock the A23. Let it be the artery to bring back public transport and with it passing trade.

  10. Kizza says:

    Give me a pedestrianised high street all day long. People sitting outside, no constant vehicle noise or cars whizzing past dangerously at high speed. Have car parks on the outskirts. Pedestrianisation improves business. FACT.

  11. Leanna says:

    Recent tram works haven’t helped either. For those of us that have children and need to carry lots of shopping cars are essential. Croydon doubling parking fees hasn’t helped either. Croydon council messed up big and are punishing the people.

    • The tram works are essential maintenance which is carried out annually to help ensure the safety of the network.

      Cars are “not essential”. Haven’t you heard of the many and varied delivery options – often at no charge and without any parking fees- that are widely available?

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