This article was originally posted on The Croydon Citizen on 15/02/2016
Why worry about Croydon town centre’s night-time economy?
Sean Creighton sheds some light on Croydon’s after-dark scene
A Tiger Tiger spokesperson said: “It’s been a long time coming. Footfall in Croydon has gone down a lot. We’ve been in a shadow of decline.” It appears that the reduced spend per head of eighteen to twenty-four year olds has been part of that decline.
Tapping into the concerns, a discussion session organised by councillor Mario Creatura on the issue on Monday 1st February at Matthews Yard was attended by at least thrity people, including councillors, bar, club and venue owners and community and arts activists.
The discussion was wide-ranging, trying to understand the reasons for the decline. Factors identified included the reduction in the number of employees in the town centre staying on after work, shoppers leaving int he late afternoon, the physical decay of the area, the heavy policing and the lack of the right kind of venues. It is unclear what people of different age groups want, which changes all the time.
The types of venues available are not regarded as suitable for event promoters’ needs or customers tastes, and there is a lack of non-alcohol-serving establishments and meeting places. Concerns were expressed that council’s emphasis on creating different quarters, such as restaurant, retail, office and culture, makes it more difficult to, for example, have a meal or a drink after a show at Fairfield Halls. The closures for the redevelopment of the Whitgift shopping centre and the refurbishment of the Halls are also seen as a nail in the coffin of the evening economy for at least two years.
The two most animated debates on the evening centred on heavy policing, linked to an effective police ban on any venue organising music events such as rap, hip-hop, and dubstep, and the planned increase in street trading licence fees e.g. for outside seating areas. While cabinet member Mark Watson defended this consultation, he was challenged about the cost being more of a burden on independents rather than chain businesses. The consultation was criticised for not explaining the detailed background, which was revealed in the meeting, and for failing to present any other options, therefore making this another exercise that would be impossible to influence.
Many people want the council to be more proactive and supportive of small independent businesses. However, it was pointed out that the council will be able to do less here because of the ongoing funding cuts and the loss of 600 staff this year.
There are many other considerations to be taken into account. Some of these have been raised in submissions to the council’s revised Local Plan and on the Fairness Commission’s interim report, including those by the Croydon TUC Croydon Assembly Local Economy and Housing working group. Issues raised included:
- What is the night-time economy? Does it mean boosting the evening economy to 11:00pm or into the small hours, e.g. 2:00am?
- The core elements of the night time economy until 2:00am or later are bars, pubs, restaurants, and music venues. This sector depends on low wage employees who are often subject to anti-social shift systems, many of whom have problems getting home by night-buses if they cannot afford to own a car, and often have to return to work for an early shift the next day.
- Residents living in areas where there is a night-time economy up to 2:00am or beyond have to put up with anti-social behaviour fuelled by drink and possibly drugs, and high levels of noise.
- There is no justification for prioritising the small number of potential night-time customers, especially given the problems and costs that are created. The commission’s final report, published on 28th January, now talks about ‘the evening economy’.
Other issues to consider include the fact that the council’s last full study of the night-time economy was carried out by the scrutiny committee in 2001. And cabinet member Mark Watson was unable to give accurate information to a question by Councillor Stephen Mann at the January 2015 council meeting on the development of the night economy since 2000 in terms of turnover, number of venues, taxpayer policing cost or footfall.
Research elsewhere in London and other major cities since 2001 shows there are both positive and negative aspects to promoting night-time economies. Bearing in mind the high level of low income in the borough, there is a limit to the number of Croydonians who have the money to engage with the night-time economy other than as low-paid, exploited workers, especially as a growing percentage of the population does not drink alcohol. (More than one in five adults (21%) adults in Britain do not drink alcohol at all, according to the Office for National Statistics in a study released in 2015; the figure rises to 32% for adults in London.)
In terms of equal opportunities, the development of a night-time economy can therefore be seen as discriminatory, devoting large resources to more privileged sections of society, not really contributing to social well-being and actually helping to damage health. Another interpretation is this: that the real aim of boosting the night-time economy is to help drive the gentrification of the borough, changing the socio-economic composition of its residents by driving out low income households. Finally, if the aim is to attract non-Croydonians into the town centre at night, there have to be significant improvements to public transport.
In particular, the working party asked whether the council had carried out an assessment of the night-time economy implications of the scheme, and if so, what are its conclusions If the council has not done so, why not?
Councillor Sean Fitzsimmons, the chair of the council’s Scrutiny Committee told the 1st February meeting that it will be considering the issues on Tuesday 16th February, and encouraged those present to contribute to its debate. While it will have the footfall statistics compiled by councillor Creatura, it is important that it is also supplied with information on the size of the police presence, the number of arrests, charges, and convictions for drunken and other alchohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour, the number of people taken to hospital due to alcohol and alcohol-related injuries, damage to property, and all associated costs, including insurance claims.