Street serenade: The Croydon North Streets Commission presents its report

By - Monday 10th February, 2014

Liz Sheppard-Jones listens at the launch, with a little help from Dire Straits

Everyone who gave statements on the rubbish-strewn and filthy state of the streets of North Croydon was invited to attend the launch of the long-awaited Reed report into the problem, which took place on the evening of Thursday 6th February in Katharine Street. The document in question can’t, of course, be called the Reed report (although North Croydon’s Streets Commission is indeed the love-child of the local Labour MP) because it’s politically neutral. But however much the commission’s chairman, Nero Ughwujabo of the Black and Minority Ethnic Forum in Croydon, sought to emphasise this neutrality, contributors to the brief question and answer session which followed the launch were having none of it. More on that shortly.

A rubbish meeting took place in the Town Hall, Katharine Street, on Thursday evening February 6th

These are Croydon’s streets of shame

The highways in the north of our borough are indeed the streets of shame – dirty, mean and with some worryingly bad company. In the face of rising anger from residents at the state of the place, Steve Reed MP founded the commission, comprising six panel members from the area, in the autumn of 2013 with a brief to gather views and evidence then make recommendations.

The community responded and over 300 responses were received, more than were made to the panel which considered Croydon’s response to the 2011 riots. 70 photographs were also submitted and residents attended four public hearings in Norbury, Thornton Heath, West Croydon and South Norwood. Contributors expressed, according to the report’s foreword, anger, frustration and above all their view that a service they purchase with their council tax and therefore have a right to expect – a clean and decent environment – is just not being delivered. They – we – now look to the report to tell us why, and to propose solutions.

The report faces up to some politically-unpalatable causes of North Croydon’s rubbish problems

Nero Ughwujabo gave us a succinct summary of the report. It sets out the causes of the problem in a balanced way, stating first what seems obvious to me as a resident: amongst other points, that shopkeepers have insufficient space to store rubbish on their premises but too few bins to dispose of it outside; bins are not emptied often enough; there is lack of understanding on the part of some about rules for handling waste; fly-tipping is endemic and that areas with lots of downmarket takeaways will generate more food-rubbish.

It then faces up to some less-politically-palatable causes. In areas with transient, low-income populations, residents may not behave as more affluent owner-occupiers do; some groups may have different cultural attitudes to behaviours such as spitting or rubbish-dumping, and some sections of the community have little or no emotional investment in the area. It was particularly helpful to hear an acknowledgement that the repercussions of the riots of 2011 have still not run their course through my neighbourhood, which remains blighted and continues to decline psychologically as well as economically.

Then came the report’s recommendations, which resound with welcome common sense. They include more frequent jet-washing, street-cleaning to take place after weekly bin collections (during which rubbish is often spilled) rather than just before them, that small businesses all be required to possess and display waste management licences, business sponsorship of bins, removal of the £10 charge for bulky item disposal and work with landlords to ensure broken furniture is not dumped when tenancies end – something which can happen frequently in areas with transient populations.

Common sense then concluded and politics immediately commenced

As the common sense portion of the evening concluded, politics immediately commenced. Statements from Mike Fisher in absentia and Tony Newman in person were delivered, the Fisher contribution being met with a fair share of head-shaking. My head shook too, simply because I did not recognise this area where ‘many initiatives in the Report are already in place’ as the place where I live.

Tony Newman, Leader of the Labour Group on Croydon Council, will seek an emergency meeting of the full council to receive a debate the report in the four weeks which now remain before normal council business ceases for electioneering. I hope it happens. But tut-tutting over the absence of Conservative councillors from the meeting was unwarranted, since there are none elected to office in the north of Croydon.

The most significant contribution to the Q and A portion of the evening came from local activist (and Citizen contributor) Sean Creighton, who – staying with the theme of ‘refreshingly obvious’ – pointed out the cost implications of the report’s recommendations. That, plus Tony Newman’s warning of ‘four weeks to make a difference’, together give what I suspect is the clearest prediction of how this will pan out.

If indeed nothing changes, it will be a grievous waste of opportunity. The report – copies of which were available on the night but which is not yet on the commission’s website in spite of promises – is an unusual example of community involvement by an MP and as such has welcome power to decrease cynicism about politicians. It has also genuinely sought to act above party-point-scoring – something Croydon’s Conservatives recognised as they smartly shifted their ground from dismissing it as just another one of those (political) deals to welcoming it. It gives voice to a community’s distress and should be both listened to and acted on.

Steve Reed set all this in motion when he brought the commission together – though he has not been involved in the apolitical commission’s operation. Steve, this report has dreamed our dream for us although it takes care not to promise everything. Please, if you can, make the dream real.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Sean Creighton

    Liz, thanks for the mention. My review of the launch can be seen at Unfortunately the report is not yet up on the Commission website. The next chance readers have to discuss the issues and their relevance across the Borough is on Wednesday (12 February) at the meeting on Rubbish organised by the Croydon Communities Consortium at 7pm – see

    • lizsheppardjourno

      Have my ticket already – hope to see you there tomorrow, L

  • Ian Marvin

    Having now read the report (and not previously heard of the commission) I do have some comments. Prompt removal of waste is key in all of this, my experience (and anecdotal confirmation from the removal operatives) is that the Council wait for a significant accumulation of rubbish before removing it in one operation. It’s certainly true that fly tipping attracts more fly tipping. I live opposite a favourite site, it’s almost as if the post box provides a convenient fixture for arranging it around. I hardly ever see a street cleaner or evidence that they have visited other than orange bags occasionally which are usually left long enough for the foxes to rip them apart and scatter the contents. Much of the rubbish in them consists of fried chicken remains. As the report says, there seems to be little coordination, for example the street cleaners should be the eyes and ears and if they see any large objects they should be removed on the same day.

    Meanwhile the street lighting being installed is too tall, too distantly spaced and outdated already. Of course we will be paying for it for the next 25 years too.