“War over Whitgift” has planning showdown tonight

The tug of war for control of the Whitgift Centre takes another move tonight, when Croydon Council’s strategic planning committee hears applications from two leading retail developers, Hammerson and Westfield, with the Whitgift Foundation threatening to block plans that could create hundreds of local jobs.

The Westfield plans are being put forward for the Whitgift Centre for approval even though the Australian company does not have “preferred developer” status for the 1960s-built centre in Croydon. Westfield is backed by the centre’s freehold owners, the Whitgift Foundation. But that appointment was made without consulting the majority leaseholders, who instead selected Hammerson to redevelop the centre.

Hammerson last year paid £100 million to buy Centrale, the smaller shopping centre across North End from the Whitgift Centre. Tonight, they are also submitting their £50 million redevelopment plans for Centrale to the planning committee.

But the Whitgift Foundation – which has powerful influence throughout the Croydon Establishment, including having the deputy leader of council and a local MP on its governing board – is threatening to block the Centrale proposals, jeopardising plans which could create 350 much-needed jobs in the area.

Local business figures fear that the dispute between freeholders and leaseholders over the future of the Whitgift Centre will delay development and blight the area, while the centre is in urgent need for a major overhaul and upgrade.

“What most people want is simply regeneration for the town – we have missed too many opportunities in the past,” Max Menon, the much admired director at Allders and the chairman of Croydon BID, told the Croydon Guardian this week.

Income from the Whitgift Centre has been hard hit during the economic downturn. As well as the obvious impact on retail activity, many tenants in the office blocks above the shopping centre having vacated in the past two years, with a loss of millions of pounds in rents.

The preliminary Westfield/Foundation proposals being put forward tonight include up to 600 residential apartments, a bowling alley and a cinema.

Hammerson’s plans for Centrale being submitted tonight include a 11-screen multiplex cinema. The Whitgift Foundation intends to oppose Hammerson’s proposals for Centrale, since they do not want the £50 million scheme to undermine proposals for their centre from Westfield, which already operates the giant new mall outside the Olympic Park in Stratford.

“We believe the Centrale plan is premature and are opposing that. Any plans should only be considering alongside those for Whitgift,” Martin Corney, the clerk to the Foundation, told the Croydon Guardian.

A £50m redevelopment plan from the owners of Centrale could be blocked by the Whitgift Foundation tonight

Inside Croydon has obtained a copy of the briefing document which Hammerson distributed to all Croydon’s councillors this week.

In the interests of openness and transparency, we are reproducing its text in full here.

It says:

Hammerson (Croydon) Limited purchased Centrale Shopping Centre in March 2011. This application was submitted in February 2012 following positive support from the Strategic Planning Committee. The scheme involves a new cinema, shops, restaurants and cafes in the southern part of the centre (part of the former Drummond Centre). This leaflet provides you with key background information to understand what is being proposed and how it will benefit Croydon town centre.

Current Proposal
The proposed £50 million development will transform Centrale into a family friendly retail and leisure destination fit for the 21st century, including:
•Cinema – a new 11 screen cinema located predominantly in the space currently occupied by TK Maxx. We are delighted to have recently signed a deal with National Amusements, a premium cinema operator which is already present at our centres in Bristol and Leicester
•Restaurants and cafes – a much improved catering offer, with 8 new family friendly restaurants located at the former first floor food-court (which is currently 100% vacant)
•Shops – The retail space will be revitalised and modernised to attract some of the missing well-known brands that Croydon needs

There will also be a number of other substantial improvements and positive additional effects, including:
•A new glazed roof at first floor level to enable natural light in to the centre
•Creating activity along the lengths of Frith Road and Keeley Road whilst being sympathetic to the adjacent residential area
•Enhancement to pedestrian east-west links to create safe, well used routes, to include Drummond Road
•Bringing back in to use 3350 sqm GEA of vacant floorspace
•Creation of over 350 jobs (full and part time)
•Increase in activity throughout the day, particularly at North End

In addition to this application there will be other transformational enhancements, including the introduction of double height fully glazed retail units (that do not require planning permission).

We have responded to the Strategic Planning Committee’s previous comments by:
•increasing the active frontages at Frith Road and Keeley Road
•ensuring a viable scheme which includes the optimum location for the proposed uses and entrances
•improving the public realm at Drummond Road
•respecting the adjacent residential community by only providing day time accessibility at Keeley Road entrance
•promoting visibility and activity by internal remodelling of the retail and restaurant areas
•creating better access to Centrale and connections with the wider town centre
•implementing a clear management/signage plan that links the cinema to entrances, the car park, and public transport
•ensuring that the design enhances the adjacent conservation areas, reflects adjacent residential scale, and represents a good neighbour
•agreeing a high quality design and palette of materials to ensure a positive effect on conservation areas
•a childcare facility is being considered as part of wider retail core masterplan

Whitgift Centre
Last month we won the bid process (run by Royal London Asset Management and Irish Bank Resolution Corporation Assurance Company which own 75% of the Whitgift Centre) for the role of development and management partner of the Whitgift Centre. All three of us are in the process of merging our interests and have formed the Croydon Alliance to deliver the transformation.

We believe it is crucial to recreate the retail heart of the town centre
for Croydon to truly prosper and reposition itself in the top 10 UK retail centres.

The Croydon Alliance will be bringing forward a separate but complementary
planning application for the Whitgift Centre later this year.

Conclusion
Hammerson is a partner in Croydon for the long term. We see our improvements to Centrale as the first steps in the wider transformation of the town centre. If your Committee resolves to grant permission on Thursday, we plan to begin work in spring 2013 and complete the improvements by the end of 2014.

  • Inside Croydon: Living life on the fringes of Croydon. Post your comments on this article below. If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, email us at inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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