Croydon Council’s planning committee last night gave approval for Hammerson‘s £50million redevelopment scheme for their Centrale shopping mall in North End.
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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- “War over Whitgift” has planning showdown tonight (insidecroydon.com)
- Owners in damaging tug-of-war over future of Whitgift Centre (insidecroydon.com)
- Dear Prime Minister: this is what Croydon really needs (insidecroydon.com)
- UK shopping centres attract foreign bids (telegraph.co.uk)