A voice from the south

By - Monday 20th February, 2017

Central Croydon is renewing itself, but please don’t forget the rest of the borough

Purley’s (in)famous Tesco megastore.
 Photo by Dr Neil Clifton, used under Creative Commons licence.

I have lived in Croydon since 1984. We moved from Streatham to Purley because the state schools would be better for our young children, as would the greener environment. We moved from a flat to a house and had to rapidly learn gardening skills. Purley then had (and still has) excellent north-south transport links to central London, Surrey and Gatwick. Areas to the west and east of us like Sutton and Beckenham might as well have been on the moon – we never went to them!

The shopping experience in Purley in those days was good, and Croydon with the Whitgift Centre and Surrey Street market was always a pleasure to visit. But in the last decade we have been going further away for shopping and eating out. Reigate and Dorking are particular favourites with a lot more variety and charm than central Croydon.

However, in recent times we have been enthused by the new spirit in Croydon: the tech potential, Boxpark, the better choice of eateries. Matthews Yard is a great favourite and we have had great meals in Boxpark and in South Croydon’s restaurant quarter. What we are missing in central Croydon is a decent traditional tea shop. Not everybody wants to go to the coffee chain stores with their overpriced lattes. I’m sympathetic to those who say that the nightlife may be dying, but frankly that’s of little interest to me and my wife at our age.

The run-down St George’s Walk could be invigorated to fill the Whitgift void

A big threat to the buzz of Croydon is the closure of the Fairfield Halls for at least two years and the (expected) demolition this year of the Whitgift Centre. This has to be done, but leaves a huge hole literally in the centre of Croydon. The council and traders will have to plan now for this and show some real imagination in trying to keep people coming into central Croydon. The council’s new support for Surrey Street market is welcome but perhaps there should be semi-permanent stalls selling non-foods along the High Street. The run-down St George’s Walk could also be invigorated to fill the Whitgift void. We still have the Centrale Centre, of course, which provides some much needed upmarket shopping. The council has a wonderful asset in the town hall, Croydon Central Library, the Museum of Croydon, and the David Lean Cinema. But do they have the imagination to meet the very real challenges that lie ahead? I doubt it.

Being an Anglo-Danish family, we are very fussy about furniture and tend to import from Denmark what we need. This is not a particular criticism of Croydon, but British furniture is dreadful – huge squishy sofas designed for watching TV or playing games do not figure in the wonderful concept of ‘hygge’. Cosiness, conversation and candles are essential.

A big plus for Croydon is that property prices are a lot lower than Streatham, Clapham, Battersea and other areas to the north of us. This is little comfort to young people struggling to get on the property ladder, but you get a lot more for your money in our area. A terraced house with garden costs the same as a small flat in Clapham.

We badly need a discount food store, perhaps in the abandoned Sainsbury’s site under the leisure centre

Turning to the south of our borough, Purley (where we live) is leafy and pleasant in the residential areas in chalk valleys and downlands. In the town centre, the traffic is a nightmare at peak times, and it has a rather seedy feel despite the efforts of our traders and councillors. Between 3pm and 4pm each day, Purley town centre is invaded by hordes of secondary school children. They are well-behaved but noisy. Pensioners tend to avoid Purley at this time. We badly need a discount food store, perhaps in the abandoned Sainsbury’s site under the leisure centre, to provide competition to the mega Tesco store that dominates the town.

A major controversy for us is the plan to build a 17-storey ‘skyscraper’ on a site in the centre owned by the Baptist Church. I admit that 17 storeys does not usually constitute a skyscraper, but no building in Purley is over 4 or 5 storeys. Despite a 4,000+ petition opposing it, the council has approved the plan. This has made the council, the Baptist Church and the Purley and Woodcote Residents Association – one of the very few supporters – deeply unpopular. To my eyes, the architectural design is very poor, and moreover barely any car parking is provided in the development.

Coulsdon town centre by contrast has two food supermarkets, a wide variety of excellent shops and has benefitted greatly from the town’s bypass. I always detect more of a sense of community there than in Purley.

I am sure that many of us who rely on Southern would have mounted a demo outside ASLEF’s HQ, if we had been able to get there

Vital for all of us living in the south of Croydon is decent transport services, which mostly means rail for the tens of thousands that work in central London. We have been greatly affected in our jobs and home life by the rail strikes inflicted on us by trade union dinosaurs. Our MP Chris Philp has called for judges to have the power to decide whether the right to strike by rail staff should be balanced with the public’s right to get to work. I am sure that many of us who rely on Southern would have mounted a demo outside train drivers’ union ASLEF’s HQ, if we had been able to get there! That said, Southern had a very poor service record before the strikes even began. They are right to support driver-operated doors on trains, but in my view they should lose the franchise when it expires.

In conclusion, I am optimistic that Croydon after some difficult times ahead will have a great future. The borough’s image is undeservedly poor and badly needs addressing. There is much to be positive about – from north to south.

Peter Davis

Peter Davis

Peter Davis lives in Purley and is semi-retired from the plastics industry. He has had a career in architecture, manufacturing and packaging. He is a Freeman of the City of London and votes Conservative.

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  • Roger Wade

    Smoothbean opposite Boxpark is a great tea shop !

    • Anne Giles

      Must try it!

  • Anne Giles

    Wonderful article!

  • Croydon OldTown News

    SMH! so here we are Croydon which is according to some is a up and coming ‘Hip’ town part of London (no really even though our post code is not SE). Which will EVENTUALLY be getting a Mega Shopping centre and already has a cheaper & less cool version of the Boxpark in East London and ………. ‘traditional’ Tea shops is in demand lol. Lets be clear Croydon has always been a safe haven for those who are either fed up or nervous about living and raising there children in real gritty London areas such as Shoreditch / Forest Hill / Hackney back in the day. Since then the safe ‘leafy’ suburb which is Croydon has taken on the image and feel of the hackneys / Peckham’s and even Clapham when they where often called shitholes (yes Clapham wasn’t always nice). As much as I feel this VERSION of Boxpark has been a Waste and too only serve food a .. Joke it at least was a attempt to put Croydon on the map and shine so our Mayor Mr Khan could give our town the same attention as Peckham / Bermondsey and even Barking are receiving. I mean think about it Croydon has a Boxpark / Overground station / A westfield coming but has never been considered for the Boris bikes scheme. Reason ? because when its all said and done Croydon is just a town and not a city and not even part of true ‘South East London’ so the sooner the council realise this and hire Urban regeneration individuals who know this is the truth and have the creative minds to not only change but fight to make Croydon a truly cool but also for those who moved here in the first place ‘safe’ to live / work / shop /play etc then and only then will I say iam proud to live here!

  • Chris

    This article by Peter Davies. gives an insight into how other People from another country views this country and Particularly Croydon. Mr Davies speaks about no1. Why he moved to Purley. because it is cheaper than London in buying a Property. quit true and the houses are much bigger with nice gardens.and his family go shopping in Dorking and Reigate. Croydon does not seem to have much to offer. This is very different from what I have seen. Croydon has improved there is now a new Lidl store. and Debenhams, new Look. House of frazer. and much more. in fact Croydon is starting to look like Oxford Street. I now know where I will be doing my Christmas shopping.