ONE in every four shops in deprived London Road sells alcohol or fast food, an Advertiser study has revealed. A survey of the Broad Green stretch of the street has highlighted an alarming lack of variety among its shops. One third of the 179 currently occupied stores sell booze or fast food, or is a pawnbroker, betting office or payday loans firm. Croydon Council is currently in the process of changing its licensing policy to give it greater power to reject applications to sell alcohol, but it has little influence in other areas. The proliferation of off-licences and convenience stores supports Broad Green's inclusion in the new 'cumulative impact zones' which are being created to tackle alcohol-related crime and health issues. Binge drinking in the ward has increased 44 per cent in two years, from 82 ambulance call outs in 2010 to 120 in 2012. Kanagaratnam Kanendran applied for a licence to sell alcohol in his convenience store Best Goods in 1996. "At the time there was very little competition," he said. "Customers kept asking for alcohol because only one other shop near us sold it. "Now everyone seems to have a liquor licence. Yes, there are too many. It's too easy to buy cheap alcohol. "But we can't say 'you can't open a shop here'. It would be less competition for me but I don't think it would be fair. "I don't think I'm contributing to poor health. I can't tell the customer how much to drink and if I did they would just go somewhere else. People need to be better educated about the dangers." Brian Mumford, chairman of Broad Green Residents' Association, believes the law should change to allow councils more control over businesses based on "financial exploitation". "Whichever way you look at the type of shops down here, people are screwed," he said. "They go to the off-licence for a cheap drink or to the betting shop to gamble, and when they run out of money they can go to the quick loan shop and get more. "People are getting roped into all sorts of things. It drags the area down. It's like a little Harlem. "It's good they are drawing a line when it comes to selling alcohol. They need to do the same for money lending places, but what can they do? The law says they can be there." Vidhi Mohan, cabinet member for economic development, recently compared Labour councillors to members of the Communist Party for wanting to control what types of business open in Broad Green. "I certainly accept there has to be more diversity in London Road," he told the Advertiser. "In recent months three or four pawnbrokers have been set up in West Croydon which is not something I am pleased about. I wish that wasn't the case. "The reason why landlords let out their properties to these types of businesses is they are the ones that pay the highest rents. "People have to be supported to start different styles of business, that's why we have set up a package of measures to help them. "However, I don't think it's desirable for the council to dictate which businesses open and which don't. We don't have the power." Our survey was prompted by the approval, taken earlier this month, of bookmaker Paddy Power's application to open a new branch in a former Chicken Cottage. The plan met with the opposition of every major community group in Broad Green, who argued the shop would add to pre-existing problems created by the area's gambling and quick-fix culture. It found 24 pubs, off licenses or convenience stores between the start of London Road to where it meets with Croydon University Hospital. In the same area there were 19 fast food outlets and eight loan or pawnshops, though only two betting shops Croydon North MP Steve Reed said the figures are an indication that London Road "has been going downhill for a long time" adding that regeneration and tackling crime, rather than restricting types of business, is the answer. There has been a sharp increase in robberies in Croydon, particularly in Broad Green, where the number of offences per 1,000 of the population increased 20.4 per cent in one year, from 16.5 in 2011 to 19.8 in 2012. "We cannot hope to attract a variety of businesses to London Road unless we tackle rising crime levels," said Mr Reed. "A lot of people are afraid to do their shopping or open a business there. Before confidence can return there needs to be a more visible police presence and the promise of a front office in London Road must be kept. Only then will people feel safe." Mr Reed said he would support any attempt to extend cumulative impact policies beyond alcohol but stressed regeneration was equally important. "Betting shops leech off desperate people," said Mr Reed. "But it's not enough to say we will ban these things. We would just end up with empty shops. There has to be a plan to regenerate the area, to revamp the public realm." Some of the Mayor's £23 million regeneration fund, allocated to Croydon after the riots, promises to do just that. Around £5 million is going to be spent on improving the area outside West Croydon station and a further £3 million on London Road up to Campbell Road. The council will also spend £1.5 million of the money on a three-year business investment programme, including the creation of an 'enterprise hub' based in Croydon Voluntary Action's (CVA) office in London Road. Toni Letts, Labour's shadow cabinet member for economic development, believes the council should be more proactive. The Selhurst councillor wrote to all the major banks and asked whether they would consider opening a branch in London Road. RBS was the only bank to reply and, in November last year, Ross McEwan, chief executive of retail banking, visited West Croydon. "What he said was that banking is changing," said Cllr Letts. "So many people do their banking at home so he couldn't see a way of putting a bank (in London Road). "But that doesn't mean we shouldn't continue to think outside the box. People want a coffee shop in London Road. If you look at the pub which is going to be turned in a Sainsbury's it sells between 700 and 800 cups of coffee a week. Isn't that enough to say that a coffee shop would be successful there?"
More Pages to Explore .....