While the politicians of various parties and (questionable) abilities continue to indulge themselves in half-truths, misinformation and petty spats, elsewhere in London, in the plush offices of West End PR agencies and high-powered law firms, the real battle for Croydon’s future is going on, as strategies and bid documents are prepared for the tug-of-war over the Whitgift Centre.
None of the candidates standing in the November 29 by-election can deliver a £1 billion redevelopment project in central Croydon. But that is what Hammerson and Westfield say they would bring to the borough, together with 5,000 jobs, if their schemes for the shopping centre gets the go-ahead from the council next year.
The next phase of the multi-million-pound beauty contest is on Wednesday night, when Westfield’s PRs are staging what they call a “Telephone Town Hall”. Whoever came up with that zinger of a title probably has no idea of the biased and prejudiced mishandling of Town Hall meetings in Croydon.
Or maybe they do: this hour-long radio phone-in style piece of public engagement is being “hosted” by Nick Ferrari, the LBC shock-jock so beloved of black cab drivers but often a stranger to reasonable discussion.
The main turn during the hour is to be John Burton, the director of development for the Australian shopping mall developers, making himself available to public questions. Just how carefully produced the “programme” proves to be – will the more awkward questioners be carefully excluded behind the scenes? – remains to be seen.
We may be able to judge by timing how long it takes before the dread word “Bradford” is uttered – Westfield’s “development” in the Yorkshire city has left a vast crater hole in the town centre for a decade, a mess that only now is beginning to be cleared up.
In truth, it’s sometimes difficult to discern the real differences between Westfield and Hammerson – a bit like Gavin Barwell and Steve Reed…
Hammerson this month made a presentation to the South Croydon Community Association, where plans that have hitherto been sketchy were offered in more detailed form. They say that they want their scheme to be integrated with Centrale – which they also own and are re-developing – and nearby areas, while also offering to respect and preserve Croydon’s heritage, such as the frontage of the now-closed Allders building, and creating attractive streets and “continental” squares in the town centre. It is almost as if Hammerson is offering a non-mall shopping mall.
Westfield, the operators of the impressive new centre at Stratford, beside the Olympic Park, in slightly concerning Stalinistic style, is offering a five-point plan for Croydon.
It is arguable that at least three of Westfield’s points ought to fall under the aegis of the council, the GLA or government, part of the duties of our elected representatives: “tackling long-term unemployment”; “address Croydon’s housing shortage”; “make Croydon more accessible”. The privatisation of public policy, after two decades of Thatcherism followed by 13 years of a Blairite government, appears all but complete.
Interestingly, Westfield’s manifesto for Croydon offers no ideas for what to do with a retailing sector apparently in terminal decline. Comet, JJB Sports, Clinton Cards, Blacks Leisure, Game, Peacocks… It would be terrible to have a £1 billion shopping mall with no shoppers and no shops.
John Burton said, “We invite all residents of Croydon to dial into our Telephone Town Hall and have the opportunity to listen to our plans and provide feedback.
“Westfield is committed to being part of the Croydon community and we are focussed [sic] on ensuring our plans meet the needs of residents and businesses.”
To participate, residents need to email their phone number to Getinvolved@westfieldcroydon.co.uk. There is no cost to participants as Westfield will call participants directly.
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- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
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