Sad-looking Tower Bridge Road

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Tuesday 10 January 2012 9.46pm
TBR looks pretty sad these days near the Bricklayer's roundabout -- it looks like the Caribbean restaurant -- sadly -- has closed. The windows are all fogged up like snow and there's a sign on the door I haven't had time to read. Anyone know anything about that?

Also, it looks like the "supermarket" between the roundabout and the Tesco Express is gone for good -- or at least taking a long winter holiday...not that the road needs any more convenience stores.

At least the bike shop has recently opened, but it's too bad the other part of the road looks so sad. I think it won't ever be truly energized until the ugly, abominable flyover is demolished and the street reunited with those living on all sides of the roundabout.
Tuesday 10 January 2012 11.28pm
I too was worried at the sight of the white-washed windows at O-Tower, but upon inspection of the sign it seems they're closed until March 6th 'for Christmas'. I hope Orville and family are having a well earned rest.
Wednesday 11 January 2012 10.29am
Hi. I am a councillor for the Chaucer ward - which takes in the western side of that part of Tower Bridge Rd - so am pleased to see this discussion.

I have been talking to local residents quite a lot recently about the state of the road (traffic safety, shops, pavements etc) and want to see what we can do. There are lots of good things (e.g. most shops are still local) but it could do with some attention and I am worried that if existing shops close down, betting and payday loan shops will move in.

I would really welcome others' thoughts and ideas to add to those I have already heard. Everyone knows both public and private money is in short supply at the moment, but we can't bid for funds without ideas. Also, there may be changes that don't cost a great deal but would make a difference.

Any thoughts?

Cllr Claire Hickson
Labour Councillor, Chaucer Ward
Wednesday 11 January 2012 11.05am
Stop letting Tescos and Sainsburys move in and kill off the local shops? mind you it is a bit late for that now!!
Wednesday 11 January 2012 1.04pm
I live just off TBR and I agree, it's not looking its best. I have my own reasons for why some of the businesses are not doing well or have gone bust, which of course people can agree or disagree with.

The supermarket between Costcutter and the roundabout has been closed for ages. I'm not in the least bit surprised. Between Bermondsey Square and the roundabout there are currently six - SIX! - supermarkets/convenience stores, including Tesco and Sainsbury's. So why open another unless you're going to do something radically different or much better? This shop did neither. I wish I could be more sympathetic, but seriously, what were they thinking?

Crystal China. I very rarely see people eating in. Why? For the same reason I've never been inclined to eat there myself. The lighting is horrendous. The room's interior decor is totally uninviting. All the most conspicuously so for being next to Tower Tandoori, which has got it right.

New bike shop. I wish it well, but from looking at it I'd charitably say that it's probably an example of banks not lending. Everything looks like it's been done on a shoestring, meaning that it doesn't compare favourably with other independent bike shops (especially in the borough of Hackney). It will need time and support to mature beyond looking like a shop in late '80s Romania (sorry!). But support it we must.

La Fermata. A confused place. I put it down to the signage. It's not a continental restaurant, is it? It's a cafe. Change the sign. But again, perhaps the owner has no money to do that and the banks won't lend. In which case, what can one do?

O-Tower. Another slightly confused place. The food was good but there are too many covers for what is a tricky-sized unit. Difficult to get the space right here. In the absence of funds to do the place up properly, the owner tended to overdress the tables. I think we're seeing the same problem; I'm sure he'd like to do more to the space, decoratively, but I doubt he's got the capital and I'm guessing... the banks won't lend.

The Hartley. Covered elsewhere on the forum but suffice to say, I've not been in for four years. What a decline.

Lazzat Snackway. Never saw anyone in there. Decorated like a Greek hospital waiting room. Everything about it looked totally untempting. That name did it no favours, either.

Costcutter and the off-licence near the roundabout. If I were a shopowner and I heard that Tesco was opening up near me, I'd be putting my thinking cap on to dream up ways to improve my offer. Survival in the face of a supermarket requires effort. So what have these two shops done? Nothing. Refurbishment, new signage, new layout, different stock? Nope, nothing. And in the case of Costcutter, the same old indifferent service. Convenience-store-owners complain when a supermarket opens near them, but hardly ever rise to the challenge or respond in any way other than to grumble about them.

Sobo. I love the new owners - very friendly. The coffee's perfectly good and the place seems to be doing OK. Never been tempted by the food though, and I do miss even the small range of cakes in the 'old' Sobo.

Bottom line: the economy's been rubbish for over three years, there's no money, and banks aren't lending. So even if these store-owners actually do know perfectly well the importance of signage and shop design, I'm not sure there's much they can do.

I can't quite shake the feeling, though, that fledgling independent retailers in other parts of town are using limited resources a tad more inventively.
jpm
Wednesday 11 January 2012 1.42pm
All really interesting. The bottom half of Tower Bridge Road has so much potential that it isn't quite reaching.... and has done for some time.

Interestingly, the road (from Bermondsey Square/ Grange Road junction) is - physically - the continuation of Bermondsey Street. Some people have argued that 'rebranding' that bit of the road as 'Lower Bermondsey Street' could help in its regeneration.

@Bel - you've done a really good summary of the road. Currently there are a lot of 'trying hard but not quite getting it right' businesses which shows a lot about the attractiveness/ cost of running a business there (ie its cheap enough that you can keep going even if you're struggling).

Is part of the solution having somewhere that mentors/advises the businesses so they can start getting it right?

I'm involved with the Bermondsey Neighbourhood Forum (yourbermondsey.org) and Tower Bridge Road is one of our 'Action Areas' because we know it needs love, care and attention.

We'd love to speak to people with a particular interest in Tower Bridge Road - particularly if you'd like to help come up with proposals for improving the area.
Wednesday 11 January 2012 1.55pm
Good summary Bel. Though I would say you should brave Crystal China, IMHO it's the best chinese food in the area

Personally, I wish the council could exercise a little more control with regard to the types of businesses allowed to set up. Far too many half-stocked, half-arsed mini supermarkets in this street.

I would love to see the creation of a designated zone for artisan / independent shops, and it would be great if we could have something like Brixton Village. Maybe we'd have to hollow out the roundabout first :)
Wednesday 11 January 2012 2.08pm
Difficult to disagree with anything Bel has said - a really good evaluation.

Anybody going to mention the sheer volume of traffic? I can't help feeling comparisons to Bermondsey street are inappropriate, as that street doesn't have to cope with anything like the volume of traffic as the TBR. A better comparison would be to the Old Kent Road, which is another scruffy through-route for people mainly going somewhere else.

The volume, the noise, the aggression are all things I've mentioned before - it's impossible to generate any sense of community where this level of traffic cuts across the middle. I think, wishing local businesses all the success in the world, until this nettle is grasped, there'll be limited progress. Not suggesting all businesses are blameless (the car crash that's the Hartely, anyone?), and bearing in mind we're living through the second 'great' depression it's remarkable there aren't food banks here yet...

Obviously, Cllr Hickson, you'll be aware of the disastrous effects of chain stores on local businesses, there's no point me repeating them here, and I've no idea of your record on support/opposition of this type of expansion.

I hate to be a defeatist, but I think we're all aware of what needs to be done - but the local community has only very limited ability to be able to reduce the volume of traffic, or protect our local shops by restricting the amount of supermarkets that open in an area. I'm not holding my breath for either the motorist or supermarket lobbies to be stood up to...

Sorry for the negativity.
Wednesday 11 January 2012 2.22pm
Cllr Hickson wrote:
I am worried that if existing shops close down, betting and payday loan shops will move in.
Cllr Claire Hickson
Labour Councillor, Chaucer Ward

Claire, as you know such 'shops' reflect the financial mood of the moment. Not far away, (I don't know if it's your patch as well) in the middle of the much trumpeted Bermondsey Spa 'regeneration' project, the first new shop to move into the ground floor of a new block of flats which replaced the original run down block is - a betting shop. Along the rest of Spa Road (albeit crummy for years) the small businesses lost include a hairdressers, a caff, a sandwich shop / hot food takeaway and a pub. The chippie and sweet shop/mini market look as though they may be on the way out, too.

Meanwhile, not far away there's a development in the railway arches further east, rumoured to be the new / extended home of some of the Maltby Street traders and spearheaded by Neals Yard. Interesting contrast of potential 'choices' for locals around there!
jpm
Wednesday 11 January 2012 2.48pm
The planning side of this is all a bit tricky.

A lot of people think that the Council have much more power than they actually do. Proper planners will correct me, but - in effect - in planning terms a shop is a shop is a shop (the jargon is 'A2' class)

So there's no difference between Tesco on Tower Bridge Road, and Fine Foods on Long Lane. And you don't need permission to turn one in to another.

So if Tesco bought Fine Foods, it could just turn it into another Tesco Express without needing planning permission (but, of course, Fine Foods is far too small, so that wouldn't happen)

Not needing another... (mini-mart/ supermarket/ whatever) is no means for refusal.

However we know that big chains such as Tesco tend to want to have reasonable size areas for shops. So one way of stopping the chains from coming is to have a planning restriction preventing buildings (eg small shops) from being knocked together. This is one of the things we're looking at for the Bermondsey Neighbourhood Plan.

However Betting Shops (and other financial services) are a different class as are Cafes/Restaurants/Takeaways. If you change between classes, you need planning permission (ie to turn a Bank into Tescos, or a takeaway into a betting shop)

The most important questionis to think like a business.
Looking at Tower Bridge Road as it is if you were a business, would you want to set up there? Or rather looking at TBR, what sort of business would you expect to set up there?


@mikec you're right, Tower Bridge Road suffers in the same way that Borough High Street does - it's a major road designated by Transport for London (and has to be because it's connected to a bridge!) so there's not a lot you can do in terms of re-routing the traffic.
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