No banks, a dwindling number of pubs, a proliferation of fast food outlets and betting shops coupled with a growing number of empty shops has seen Thornton Heath ranked as the third unhealthiest High Street in London.
While the research conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) has received a mixed response with some feeling that it ‘does down’ Thornton Heath and that it only further adds to the poor perception of the area, prior to the £2.7 million regeneration of the High Street, when the last report was published in 2015, Thornton Heath wasn’t even listed in the top 10.
A key finding of the latest report was around the proliferation of empty shops on Britain’s High Streets – their clustering in more deprived areas, and the negative impact they can have on a community’s wellbeing and spirit, representing a decline in community assets.
The ranking is embarrassing for the council which is at the end of a regeneration project funded by the Greater London Authority (GLA) New Homes Bonus and included funding of £260,150 for business support. It promised to ‘create the ideal conditions for business investment’ and according to the council’s own web site the promise that: ‘empty or run down properties will be brought back into use.’
However during the regeneration both banks closed, two pubs closed and one of Thornton Heath’s longest running businesses Wimpy shut last month after the landlord doubled the rent.
Fellow Croydon districts were also ranked in the top unhealthiest with South Norwood at five and New Addington at six.
Leader of the council Tony Newman took to Twitter to accuse the RSPH, an independent charity, of being ‘ill informed and inaccurate’ and that the report played in to a right wing media narrative and running down some of ‘our local communities’, whilst taking no account of community led regeneration and council investment despite eight years of cuts and austerity.
However, many of the recommendations called for in the report are what the community in Thornton Heath has been crying out for including:
-Supporting meanwhile use of vacant shops to keep High Streets vibrant.
-Local authorities to make records on vacant commercial properties publicly accessible.
-Councils to set differential rent classes for tenants based on how health-promoting their business offer is.
-Introduction of A5 (hot food takeaway) planning restrictions within 400 metres of primary and secondary schools which London’s Mayor is already enacting.
-The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to ensure that the £2 maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) is implemented no later than April 2019.
-Mandatory display of food hygiene ratings
The RSPH report also charts how High Streets have changed in recent years – with banks and pubs closing down, while fried chicken and fast food shops, vape shops and convenience stores are on the up.
The report which looked at 146 high streets across London used deprivation scores from London borough data. The 10 unhealthiest High Streets had an average deprivation score of 26.9 – much higher than the average score of 19.7 for the healthiest streets. As an example, while just one of the healthiest High Streets had over five per cent of fast food outlets, all of the unhealthiests had over five per cent.
Shirley Cramer, Chief Executive, RSPH said: “Our…. rankings illustrate how unhealthy businesses concentrate in areas which already experience higher levels of deprivation, obesity and lower life expectancy.”
A recent survey by The Chronicle found that people were generally happy with the regeneration; the murals, shop front improvements, trees, plants and new pavement but felt it didn’t tackle the underlying issues.