Opinion: We must listen and support our traders
PUBLISHED: 14:30 05 September 2019
The front seat on the top deck of a 41 bus trundling down Crouch End Hill offers one of the loveliest vistas in London. The avenue of trees frames Crouch End as it opens out below.
It is a pity then that the first shop we pass is closed and empty - and it won't be the last we see.
On the Broadway there are four empty units. Happily, we have the recently opened hardware shop and the promise of a Holland & Barrett on the Starbucks' site but, according to Mark Afford, the chairman of the Crouch End neighbourhood Forum and a man who keeps an eye on this sort of thing, there are about 20 units (out of 200 or so) either empty or awaiting a new operator's refit.
During the 2010 financial meltdown, the number of empty units hit 10per cent and (despite last week's Westminster coup) Brexit hasn't even started!
So what's going on?
Muswell Hill has a similar number of shops, but last week I could only find six vacant.
Also striking was the amount of traditional retail - pots and pans, bananas and bream, shirts and skirts.
In Crouch End the variety of businesses changes but the long term trend is a shrinking retail sector. As a newsagent closes, a nail bar opens; a rug shop becomes a chichi little coffee shop; a kid's clothes shop morphs into an estate agent.
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And, of course, more and more stuff is available online and delivered to your door. The decision where you spend your dosh and who gets your business is at your finger tip; think before you click!
Despite high tenant churn, commercial landlords seem determined to continue to maximise rents, with increases of 10pc not uncommon.
For many small businesses a rent review is the final nail in the coffin.
The pressure is mounting but there might be some hope with the Crouch End Liveable Neighbourhood Initiative (LNI).
Few people would disagree with the ambitions of the LNI. The Mayor of London wants to tackle congestion and our polluted air (worldwide air pollution kills more people than smoking and there are 9,000 premature deaths in London) by getting us out of cars, onto buses, cycling and walking.
Already the project has come up with some interesting and radical ideas (crouchendforum.org.uk/blog/) about widening pavements, remodelling road layouts, reducing through traffic in residential areas and changes to parking availability in town centres.
In tandem, Adrian Essex (while idly reading Haringey's August Cabinet papers) discovered a £50,000 budget to extend the current two hour operation of our CPZ zones to all day and to extend the geographic area of the zones.
Clearly, changes to access, parking and loading arrangements could have a significant impact on Crouch End town centre's prosperity but in a straw poll of the half dozen traders I spoke to, only one had heard of the LNI and had only the haziest idea of what it is about.
The LNI could make Crouch End a more attractive place to shop and play and it hasn't done badly engaging with residents.
But, to make it work for everyone and not risk the future viability of the shopping centre, Haringey and their consultants must seriously up their game and ensure that they seek out and listen to the ideas and concerns of all our traders.