Plans to spend millions of pounds landscaping Croydon’s London Road area have been slammed by traders and residents who say the council and police need to clean up the streets first.
A £3.2 million council scheme to plant trees, install cycle stands and widen pavements is to start later this month.
Traders in 45 stores will be offered £600,000 of the budget to fit smarter shop fronts in an area which was devastated by the riots three years ago.
But locals say the area is so rife with crime and poverty that little can be done to improve the area unless police round up the drug dealers and road sweepers clear away the piles of rubbish littering the street.
Denise McCall who lives off London Road said: “The area has become one big dumping ground. There is too much drug dealing going on. The pavements are disgusting. It stinks around here. They need to do something.
“It has always been a dump. The riots have not changed that. People around here seem to have no idea how to keep things clean. They just don’t seem to care.
“They have got no idea how to use a dustbin. You see furniture and rubbish just dumped in the street. Rather than spending all this money on shops and bike stands they should first of all keep the streets safer and get the road sweepers back. Fining people for dumping rubbish just does not work.”
Bunny Sterling, 69, the former British European and Commonwealth middle weight boxing champion was on a visit to Croydon from his home in Montreal where he is a dog breeder.
He said he thought the London Road area had improved and said: “It was rough here a for a long time. It has changed for the better.”James Chiltern, 39, who runs his own estate agency said: “They should spend money on more policing. You never see a police officer outside . You won’t see one for months.
“They also need to sweep the streets more. The people that do that are few and far between. There is more mess here than other areas because it is so densely populated. It will be good that money is invested here. It really needs it.
“If you make the place look nice and make it cleaner maybe the better people will move in and the bad people will move out and give them a problem somewhere else.”
Staff and customers at the at the Rockbottom Musical Instruments Shop were pessimistic about the future for the London Road area.
Owner John Plant, 39, said: “The area is wrecked. It has affected our trade because people come in less and when they do they spend less. People look down London Road and don’t want to come as far as out shop because of the state of it.
“At night time it is dangerous. That’s when the drug dealers all come out. They promised us £17 million after the riots – we never saw it. We have spoken to the council millions of times about the gang fights, about the drug dealing in the alleyway next door, but nothing happens. I don’t think it will make a difference no matter how much money they throw at it.”
Mr Plant added: “There were seven different gangs out there the other day. They were having a meeting across the road. We told the police to come over. They refused to turn up.”
Jeff Andrews, 22, who works in the shop said: “Violence is commonplace. You rarely go a week without seeing someone getting a punch. When the police are here they do their job but they rarely are here.
“The other day I saw a guy in the shop doorway being punched by a bloke with a chain around his hand. Another time I saw one of the barbers here swinging his hair clippers around his head as a weapon. Someone tried to drag me out of my car to steal it.
“Last week there were so many fighting it was a mini riot. The police were called and at one stage it was six gang members against two coppers.”
John Pocock, 62, who lived in Croydon for 28 years before he moved to Caterham said: “I can’t see there is going to be any improvement when there are so many socially deprived people here who are just fighting to survive.
“There are a lot of pawnbrokers here – they take in a lot of stuff but have to ship it out because no-one around here can afford to buy it. Whatever the council spend they will not tackle to really big issue here. People here are in poverty – they just do not have any money to spend.”
A row of shops were demolished after they were set on fire during the riots in London Road – and the area has remained wasteland ever since.
But the council have defended their plans for the area and say the fact there is an estate agent in London Road at all shows the area is on the up.
A council spokesman said: “Investment projects of this scale need considerable planning and co-ordination and each step required sign-off from the GLA who provided a significant part of the budget.
“We put a huge amount of effort into consulting with communities over what works were wanted, recruiting design teams and preparing detailed delivery plans to maximise the benefit of the investment and minimise local disruption.”