Hammerson gets green light for £50m scheme at Centrale

Croydon Council’s planning committee last night gave approval for Hammerson‘s £50million redevelopment scheme for their Centrale shopping mall in North End.

All change at Centrale, which is to get a £50m makeover

But the approval only came after the councillors on the committee were given firm guidance – in effect a warning – by a Town Hall officer that “competition is not a planning consideration”.

This was necessary because the Whitgift Foundation – the borough’s major land owner – oppose the Centrale plans, as the Foundation is in the midst of a tug of war for the future of the Whitgift Centre. The Foundation’s preferred developers, Australian firm Westfield, was also submitting outline plans for consideration at last night’s meeting.

With the chairman of the planning committee, Coulsdon West councillor David Osland, and the cabinet member for planning, Croham’s Jason Perry, both having close family members attending Whitgift Foundation fee-paying schools, it appears that council officers took the view that a reminder of the committee’s duties was required to ensure a fair hearing for Hammerson.

Hammerson bought Centrale last year for £100 million.

The first phase of the redevelopment will cost them £50 million – for which they have recently sold off some of their commercial office block interests – and should create more than 300 full- and part-time jobs. Further developments are also in the pipeline, offering up to £90 million more investment in Croydon over the decade.

In reality, many of Hammerson’s plans will simply tidy up short-comings left by Centrale’s original development when it opened in 2004, expanding the previous Drummond Centre.

Hammerson, as the chosen developers of the majority freehold-owners of the Whitgift Centre, is expected to draw up plans for the larger centre soon, though last night it was rival, Westfield, that made a 20-minute presentation of their outline scheme.

John Burton, director of development at Westfield, told the planning committee of ambitious plans for £1 billion investment and 4,000 jobs in Croydon. The scheme would involve demolishing the 1960s Whitgift Centre, replacing it with pedestrian walkways linking North End and Wellesley Road and Poplar Walk and St George Street, more cinemas and a bowling alley, plus four high-rise apartment blocks along Wellesley Road.

What Westfield could not address was where they would get the money to pay for such a scheme – a similar project in Bradford has stalled for lack of retailers committing to taking space in that centre – or overcome the issue of how they are not the preferred developers at the Whitgift Centre.

To experienced Croydon development watchers, Westfield’s bold paper offers of mega-millions and thousands of jobs sounds all too familiar to the last time that the town was the subject of what amounts to an ego-driven pissing contest between rival developers, over the doomed Arena scheme.

While Hammerson has sold assets to raise the cash to pay for Centrale, Westfield was unable to specify how it would raise the £1 billion required.

“The reason there’s an undeveloped building site at ‘Ruskin Square’ beside East Croydon station is because the developers can’t find anyone to buy into the proposed office space,” Inside Croydon was told today by a Town Hall source. “But at least the developers at Ruskin Square own their site. Westfield don’t have any rights to the Whitgift Centre as yet.”

The Westfield scheme proposes building a massive, two-storey car park over the top of their shopping area. “It’s as if they plan to build a shed and stick a car park over the top of it,” said the source, who also had reservations about the short-termism of the Westfield scheme.

“They said they did not want to put the residential property over the top of the shopping area because they may want to redevelop that in 30 years,” the source said. “That’s hardly long-term planning for Croydon’s future, is it?”

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2 Responses to Hammerson gets green light for £50m scheme at Centrale

  1. I’m delighted, by the decision to allow proposed improvements to Centrale.

    I had visions of Croydon Council trying to satisfy its Whitgift chums by forcing Hammerson to appeal – no doubt, successfully – with all the associated costs for hard-pressed tax-payers.

    Meanwhile, Westfield might like to reflect that it is following in well-trodden footsteps, namely those of Arrowcroft. It too brought forward planning proposals for land it didn’t own – in that case the Gateway site beside East Croydon station, which older readers will remember as Charrington’s coal yard.

    The Whitgift Centre needs a total rebuild, but after Croydon’s previous experiences with silver-tongued developers and given the present parlous state of the commercial property market, the borough has a right, even a duty, to ask precisely who will pay for the work.

  2. Hammerson bought Centrale for £100million and now are poised to invest another £50million.

    In a borough where the average income is somewhere around £23,000? I don’t understand the economics around this – how can we support such a venture? How can these companies re-coup their money? And why are they willing to invest these large sums?

    I question what these big malls give back to the city. Yes, they supply jobs but some of these come in the form of construction jobs that leave once the thing is up and running. Then, for the rest of its existence, mostly low-paying retail jobs are created. Then you have to consider that most of the profits made off the backs of these workers are shipped out of Croydon.

    This is not a tirade against retail. Of course there’s a place in our society to sell stuff. But there’s got to be a balance. We’ve also got to make stuff, repair stuff, do all sorts of things! Could malls create other kinds of jobs? If not, how can we attract other kinds of work to Croydon?

    Another problem with these big malls is that they seem to only attract the big boys, the brand names. Okay, we should be willing to accept a few of these shops. But when’s it gonna stop? The creative element in retail comes in when shops are small and independently-owned but more and more, the spirit of retail has become akin to pyramid-building. Even coffee-making has become automated by globalised coffee shops – why? Is it because one needs mega-bucks simply to open a coffee shop?

    What’s really crazy about Whitgift and Centrale is that, after the pissing contest is done and the money spent, what we will be basically left with are just are huge buildings filled with national brands. Just another typical High Street, same old same old! Hello!?! Is this really worth it? What are we giving up to host these things? How are these malls effecting our spirit, our culture?

    If these malls were filled with something different, maybe I could get excited. But I am totally mystified at why so much money needs to be invested in a place to basically get a cup of coffee, watch a movie, buy some clothing or research mobiles and computers.

    What is really going on here – I’d appreciate someone’s musings on this.

    Thank you, I’m done now.

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