Riots in Bromley? It’s hard to imagine. Yet, last night, a few young people threatened to bring havoc to a borough that traditionally has one of the lowest crime rates in the capital. You can see here an extraordinary video of the looting of the Nugent shopping centre. Fortunately, the incidents yesterday were limited in scope and isolated. But there is no room for complacency.
I spent part of the afternoon with the Orpington local Safer Neighbourhood Team, which is bracing itself for a repeat performance tonight. Now that the mob has done the capital’s bigger high streets and now that the police are out in force in the city centre, the fear is that secondary targets, such as Bromley, Beckenham and Orpington, will become the next front line.
In Orpington, shopkeepers were today wringing their hands with anger and frustration. The high street has just benefited from a £2.2m facelift to help it combat the existential challenge facing all local shopping parades: this is the last thing it needs. Sure, the London Borough of Bromley has escaped lightly compared to next door Croydon and Lewisham. Relatively few shopkeepers in LBB have suffered significant direct loss of damage, at this stage. But hundreds of businesses in Orpington and Bromley town were this afternoon closing their doors early for the safety of staff and customers. This is a blow that the local economy can ill afford. Stephen Robertson, Director General of the British Retail Consortium, has just emailed me to highlight the likelihood that a “significant number” of small businesses in the capital will now fail, with some chain store retailers choosing not to re-open in areas where trade was poor even before the events of the last few days.
Economic recovery was sluggish even before any effects of the recent market turmoil came to be felt. There is a good chance Britain can avoid a double-dip recession, but nihilistic looting, arson and banditry on an unprecedented scale will not help.
Jo Johnson is the Conservative MP for Orpington, a borough constituency in the London borough of Bromley.