Saturday, July 13, 2024

Erith: ‘I want to know why all the shops have gone’ – BBC News

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Video caption, Election issues: ‘Crime, rats and shops shutting down’

It’s Thursday lunchtime on the high-street in Erith, south-east London, and it’s eerily quiet.

The man running a fruit and veg stall outside the shopping centre tells me that every day is as quiet as today – as footfall declines, more shops shut and so “we’re stuck in a vicious circle” he explains.

Almost half of the units in the shopping centre are boarded up and empty, while the others are almost empty.

“All we’re left with is a Farmfoods, Iceland and Greggs,” one man tells me as I walk through the shopping centre. “Is that all Erith is allowed? I want to know why all the shops have gone.”

Located in the London borough of Bexley, Erith’s high street hasn’t always been so deserted.

Elaine Brew has lived in the area her whole life and was born here in the 1950s.

Image caption, Elaine says it’s sad to see how much the area has declined

“There used to be some lovely shops here, big department stores where people would come from all over, but it’s not the same now,” she says.

“It’s so sad to see the decline in the shops but also the number of people who are struggling and don’t have jobs has really gone up.”

Elaine works in a charity shop in the shopping centre and says that recently “the amount of stuff we’re selling has risen, which is a reflection that people can’t afford to buy things new”.

She has always voted but has now “lost faith in politicians” and is undecided about what to do at the upcoming general election on 4 July.

Down the road in Woolwich, not everyone is happy with the high street but there is certainly a more optimistic feeling.

This is in part down to £25m of funding that Greenwich Council has received from the Future High Street Fund to regenerate and improve the high street and town centre.

Aaron Soto tells me the regeneration has helped improve the community spirit in the area and “it’s a lot nicer and cleaner” than it used to be.

Image caption, Aaron Soto thinks the redevelopment of the high street is good but businesses are still shutting down

However the 22-year-old says that despite the investment, “not a lot of businesses tend to last here and every year they shut down and new ones open”.

He would also like to see more investment in the whole area as the specific funding that has gone into improving the town hall means “the other parts surrounding it are suffering”.

But not everyone is happy with the progress of the regeneration project.

One man who has lived in the area his whole life is Ahmet, who says that the council is taking a lot longer to finish the project than promised and parts of the high street, including one area that was once a lively market, is still a building site.

Aside from the issue of the high street, people in Erith and Woolwich tell me that they are worried about the increase in crime.

At a barber shop inside a London bus, I speak to some locals who say they are concerned with the amount of shoplifting that’s going on.

“People are really struggling and I’ve noticed a rise in petty crimes, homelessness and the use of drugs,” 39-year-old Derek Vaughan says.

He has noticed there are a lot more young people getting involved in criminal activity and is keen to see the parties commit to investing more into youth programmes and services, such as community centres and after school activities.

Image caption, Derek Vaughan says he’d like to see more investment into youth programmes

Outside the barbers, I speak to another man, Vic Santoro, who agrees with Derek and tells me “all the community centres in south-east London are closed or have no funding and I think it’s so important we sort this out now”.

“We’re approaching summer holidays and young people will just be hanging around getting themselves into trouble unless they have somewhere for them to go.”

Image caption, Vic Santoro said he thinks the country need a change in leadership

The 28-year-old says Woolwich has become a great place for young professionals because of improved transport routes, such as the Elizabeth Line, but this has also pushed up the housing prices.

“We need someone that will fix the housing crisis and unaffordable rents – we need more genuinely affordable housing otherwise people will be priced out of this great area,” he says.

The BBC has contacted the local parties in the parliamentary constituencies of Erith & Thamesmead and Greenwich & Woolwich for comment about these issues raised by residents ahead of the election.

Liberal Democrat candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich Chris Annous said he would “campaign for business rates to be replaced with a system that is fairer for our high street shops” and “that all the new development in Woolwich is accompanied by appropriate community infrastructure, services and amenities”.

The other candidates are yet to comment.

Bexley and Greenwich councils were also contacted for comment.

  • The full list of candidates in Thamesmead & Erith is as follows (in alphabetical order):

Pierce Chalmers, Liberal Democrats

Diana Diamond, Independent

Richard Mark, Conservative

Abena Oppong-Asare, Labour

Michael Pastor, Reform UK

Mohammed Shahed, Workers Party of Britain

  • The full list of candidates in Greenwich & Woolwich is as follows (in alphabetical order):

Chris Annous, Liberal Democrat

Priyank Bakshi, Climate Party

Jonathan Goff, Conservative

Niko Omilana, Independent

Matthew Pennycook, Labour

Sheikh Raquib, Workers Party of Britain

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