Anyone mention the phrase “unseemly haste”?
Do images of vultures come to mind when it is reported that property developers Westfield, urged on by their mates, the multi-million-pound landowners the Whitgift Foundation, have just submitted their planning application for central Croydon?
The application has been handed in barely four days after the administrators at Allders finally gave up hope of finding a buyer for the 150-year-old store.
Such a swift action can only serve to fuel any cynicism over the role of the Whitgift Foundation in the demise of the Allders store that had been so closely associated with Croydon for more than a century. Nearly 1,000 jobs are to be lost when Allders closes for the final time this month.
Retail Week is reporting today that Westfield’s £1billion scheme “includes plans to bring a new department store to the town”. That is widely expected to be John Lewis. Having Allders out of the picture in the Whitgift Centre can only assist that process.“As part of the redevelopment Westfield would also ‘deliver a greater variety of size and type of shops to attract the modern retailers missing from the town’ and ‘give local businesses the opportunities they need’,” Retail Week reports.
Westfield’s scheme is backed by the Whitgift Foundation, which owns the freehold to the Whitgift Centre, while the owners of the majority of the leasehold are backing a rival scheme proposed by Hammerson.
Hammerson, is already redeveloping the Centrale centre on the opposite side of North End, but is yet to submit its detailed scheme for the Whitgift Centre.
The planning process is expected to run through until January, when Croydon Council’s planning committee will make a ruling.
When Inside Croydon conducted its own, unscientific survey earlier this summer, Westfield’s very vague plans received only a lukewarm response. We reckon our figures are no less, and no more, reliable than the results of the non-independent and self-serving survey conducted by Westfield.
But the developers behind schemes at Stratford and Shepherd’s Bush are ploughing on, using the vacuous consultation as justification for its Croydon scheme.
“Westfield has delivered on its promise to bring forward its plans for Croydon so that regeneration can start at the earliest opportunity,” John Burton, Westfield’s director, told the magazine.
“Westfield’s application presents an ambitious but entirely achievable and viable plan for the regeneration of Croydon’s town centre. The Whitgift Centre redevelopment will be phased to ensure the current tenants can continue to trade and will have a minimal impact on the town centre whilst the scheme is implemented.”
That comment is in direct response to legitimate concerns over Westfield’s disastrous scheme in Bradford, which has left a vast hole in the place where the city centre’s beating heart once was – and with no real expectation of the development there getting underway any time soon.
On the Croydon scheme, “It’s essential that work begins on this redevelopment without further delay if the town is going to escape from the established cycle of deterioration we have witnessed over the last decade,” Retail Week quoted Martin Corney, clerk to The Whitgift Foundation, as saying.
That suggests that Corney is overlooking the fact that, as the major landowners in the town centre and across the borough, the Foundation carries considerable responsibility for that “established cycle of deterioration we have witnessed over the last decade”. How convenient.
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