Over the course of the past week, a large number of residents have been in touch about the fate of the Café in Eltham Park
South where Rob and Caroline (who run it) have put up signs saying they will be leaving at the end of the month. I have spoken with most of the key people who are involved behind the scenes with the café (except the Council who haven’t bothered to reply to my emails yet) and thought I would give an overview how it has got to this point from my point of view as a local Councillor.
The Council piles on the pressure.
The only public statement (a tweet) from the Council makes it clear that there are negotiations over the Café’s lease going on behind the scenes. What does this mean? Well the Council is intent putting the more costs and responsibilities on all park cafes to make up for its own cuts in its parks service. Anecdotally, for Eltham Park South it seems the Council appears to have been asking for the operators of the Café to take on cleaning the public toilets and paying the utility bills, in addition to raising the rent from around £500 to £750 (depending on who you talk to).
Council CPZ’s hit the café
Rob and Caroline have been reporting for some time that the introduction of the CPZ (Controlled Parking Zone) has reduced their trade in hot food (breakfasts and lunches) as people don’t want to risk running getting a parking ticket. Parking is not allowed between 11 and 1pm. Most frustratingly, the CPZ impact on business was completely predictable; I wrote to the Council before the final decision on the zone was made requesting that they move the restricted times later or position them in a way which helped support the Café. Naturally the Council’s response was outright rejection of my suggestion, making clear that Eltham Park CPZ has to have the same times as every other CPZ in the Borough. So once again the Council is not supporting small businesses (in this case the café) and in fact actively making it more of a struggle to survive.
Where is the Council’s support for Eltham’s small businesses?
To anyone who uses the café it has been clear from some time that Rob and Caroline have been struggling in the park and I suspect other park cafés are in a similar situation. I have been speaking with other local residents about the extent to which we can encourage the Council to see the café as the central hub for activity there, maybe being the place you use to book the tennis courts, football pitches or any other activity you would like to undertake. This would be much more effective in giving some local control over the park and if the revenue was shared between the business and the Council would undoubtedly improve the cashflow for both. To give an example, I was told when visiting the café yesterday that a request to use the 11-a-side football pitch had been made and so on Friday the Council’s parks staff had turned up and dutifully marked out the pitch with new lines. However, they had chosen to mark out the smaller 9-a-side pitch rather than the one requested which meant that the game had been cancelled. It seems to me that if we could get a little more shared control of the parks (for instance with the opening of the Eltham Park car park, which is reportedly at random times) then everyone would benefit.
The Council’s lack of vision
But what I have suggested above rests on the Council having a vision, something which is currently hidden as they have chosen not to publish the results of their park’s survey until they have chosen to particular groups of users (presumably who will back the Council’s preferred way forward). This is a Council which happily spends £17,000 on announcing a cinema should be opened in two years in Eltham (good news, but did we need the lookalike fake ceremony) or half a million a year on its new Greenwich Info magazine but still wants to try and wring an extra £3,000 in rent out of Eltham Park South Café despite the wonderful base it provides in our park.
Where are the Labour councillors?
One thing I have noticed since 2014, now my two colleagues are Labour Councillors, is that suggestions like shifting the CPZ times to suit the Café are undermined as they fail to back local residents over the Council. It seems to me that this is another example of a situation where in a clash between Council policy and the local residents’ wishes, the Labour Councillors are obliged to choose the Woolwich based Council first. Please don’t get me wrong, I like both Wyn and Linda, but they seem to have less freedom to stand up for their local area than Opposition Councillors.
Predictable, avoidable and really sad.
The crisis over the closure of the Eltham Park Café was completely avoidable if only the Council understood how the friendly faces Rob and Caroline provide in the park are valued by local residents. I am angry and sad in equal measure that we have a council that doesn’t listen to residents or support Eltham. And Labour councillors will always side with the council not the people they represent. I will keep pressuring the Council over this mess, but given their failure to respond so far, I fear that they do not understand the urgency or their role in this disappointing chain of events.
Update 9th Sept 2016 11pm
The leaseholder Colin Jerwood has been in contact with me and asked me to publish the following statement:
“I can confirm that the cafe will not be closing on 30 September and that i will continue to keep it open as the leaseholder. I can also assure you, as I indicated before, that the new lease does not include any rent rise.”