£1.5bn Hammersfield scheme hits a planning road block

CROYDON COMMENTARY: So, the centre of town has a traffic congestion problem. Who knew?

One of Westfield's early "visualisations" of its scheme for Croydon. Funny how the roads are highlighted...

One of Westfield’s early “visualisations” of its scheme for Croydon. Funny how the roads are highlighted…

Could last week’s announcement of the delay in Hammersfield delivering the  planning application for its proposed £1.5 billion shopping mall be the start of more planning blight for Croydon?

Or worse, might it leave us with another “Wastefield” as suffered in Bradford?

DAVID CALLAM looks at the all-too-familiar  issues

Much of the clamour around the re-development of Croydon town centre so far has been a case of jam tomorrow, but last week’s announcement of a three-month delay in submitting detailed planning application by the “Croydon Partnership” was out of fear of jams tomorrow.

If the Australian developer Westfield delivers on its promises with its partner, Hammerson, one day Croydon could be the home of the largest of Greater London’s 21st century shopping malls, completing a consumer triangle with Westfield’s other schemes at “Stratford City” and White City.

That’s the theory. The practice may need a little more work.

Stratford and White City are surrounded by four-lane dual carriageways connected directly to motorway-standard roads – the A12 and Westway.

Central Croydon is not attached to anything: its inner ring road, our very own Magic Roundabout, has never been completed and therefore feeds into roads that are not wide enough to take the present weight of traffic, let alone what might be generated by a successful town centre with a carefully managed PR image.

Stratford and White City both have integrated car parks with capacities of 5,000 and 4,500 respectively. Croydon can easily handle such numbers, but only by including spaces further afield.

Adjacent car parks at Allders (583), Centrale (950) and the Whitgift Centre (1,059) have barely half the parking capacity enjoyed by either of the existing Westfield-owned centres in London.

It is debatable whether developers will want to rely on car parks at Dingwall Road (664), Fairfield (1,371), Surrey Street (685) or Wandle Road (1,021). They are too far away from the Hammersfield centre, allowing potential shoppers to stray.

No doubt the developers can incorporate extra places into the new design.

Croydon City, if that’s what we learn to call it, will need to be linked to the A22 and A23 by a road with the capacity to cope with the traffic the shopping mall generates. That will mean at least two lanes in either direction with flyovers and underpasses to keep the traffic moving.

There are persistent rumours that Hammersfield is ready to invest in junction upgrades at Fiveways and Purley Cross. That would be helpful, but not enough.

I remember the opening of Ikea in Valley Park. Aerial pictures showed congestion stretching back to the M23. The grossly inadequate Purley Way and many of the roads around it were stationary, traffic had ground to a dead halt.

It may not be that bad every day, but there will be regular congestion of that order throughout the year, unless we do something to prevent it.

Westfield's most recently completed London mall, at Startford, is surrounded by motorway-standard roads

Westfield’s most recently completed London mall, at Stratford, is surrounded by motorway-standard roads

I’m a strong advocate of park ‘n’ ride and I think we could make good use of the train (north/south) and the tram (east/west), but I can’t see the developers investing £1 billion – or is it £1.5 billion? When Boris mentioned Croydon last month, the “boast” investment figure had crept up to £1.6 billion – on the vague promise and hope that public transport will take the strain.

The car is the main means of travel to and from the shops and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future, so we must find ways to cope with the added volume, because developers are unlikely to accept our inadequate road network, or even a tarted up version of it, as a satisfactory solution.

There was a plan, a few years ago, to link central Croydon to a Fiveways gyratory with a dual carriageway along Duppas Hill Road, but residents were unhappy. Waddon was (and still is) a marginal ward. The majority party was scared of losing control of the council as a result.

We have some serious decisions to make and not very much time in which to do so. Any suggestion of widening the Purley Way, which is already full to bursting, will bring howls of protest from certain quarters.

But we can no longer fudge this decision. The multi-million pound commercial investment will not be on offer indefinitely. Developers could as easily spend their money elsewhere in south London. And if they do, central Croydon will cease to be a shopping or office centre of any consequence.

If the council goes into dither mode, it will embarrass the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who has brokered this deal. If he and the developers decide to build elsewhere, property prices in central Croydon will plummet.

And that would leave Croydon Council, its partners John Laing and other significant land owners, including the Whitgift Foundation, high and dry.

For that reason I believe the local and regional authorities will do whatever it takes to secure the long-term presence of Hammerson and Westfield in central Croydon. On balance, I think that’s the right decision, though I concede there could be a sizeable number of people who see it differently.

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14 Responses to £1.5bn Hammersfield scheme hits a planning road block

  1. Leaving aside the impact that this scheme will have on every surrounding set of shops (local parades or high streets – its never been ‘great’ anywhere in the UK, with boarded up high streets the price for the glossy new buildings), the developer is once again sitting back and going to rely on Compulsory Purchase Orders to assemble the site. We all know where they get you… delays and massive legal bills… So, they should take a leaf out of Stanhope’s book at East Croydon and simply assemble the land on the open market.

    That way we might actually see a development happen in the next five years…

    The issue of Car Parks is also important. Why hasn’t the developer purchased car parks? NCP / Croydon Council strangle the use of cars at the car parks they own (Fairfield) and the prices at the others are also about profit and not maximising use.

    Croydon Council also has a plan to cut road capacity in Central Croydon, and their masterplan sees parking spaces at the Fairfield more than halved.

    • Remind us, Councillor Godfrey: what is the building that Stanhope has delivered next to East Croydon station after all these years?

      On the face of it, and while Stanhope does appear to be a less malign property developer, rather than speculator, than most, the end result has been exactly the same. An empty plot, undeveloped.

      • Very true, but the difference is they put their money where their mouth was and bought up land.

        Park Place relied on a CPO scheme… and look what happened to that! It contributed to the collapse of Allders…

        If Hammerson / Westfield are relying on CPO once more… Nothing will happen for at least 3 years, probably longer.

        The lesson of the failed schemes in the past is that the developer must put their money where their mouth is. Avoid the costs of a CPO and just buy the land they need at a commercial rate.

  2. bobhewlett says:

    I have my doubts about ‘Croydon City’.

    In both White City and Stratford the available land was ex-industrial with new infrastructure.

    The danger quite rightly is to have a situation as in Bradford. Another danger is the effect on local traders. In both White City and Stratford, the local traders are some distance away and in the case of Shepherd’s Bush, the local trade compliments the shopping centre. In Croydon it is different.

    The danger of holding on to a Tiger’s tail is that it can stop and devour you. Investment in more affordable homes to both rent and buy. Council assistance for small to medium businesses such as shops, bars, restaurants with even an area to sit, relax and watch the children play.

    The overall plan should be to make central Croydon habitable, shoppable (sic) and enjoyable. A view of a bigger picture to incorporate West Croydon from the old Croydon General to Surrey Street/Church Street via London Road and North End with all these suggestions could make Croydon different instead of generic.

  3. markracers says:

    Another thought-provoking article by David.

    But it has a link to another key issue – the incinerator. Where are all these lorries full of the waste from right across south-west London and south-east England going to go? Down the Purley Way.

    For the new development to work there needs to be a radical look at public transport. Oxford has a network of park and rides, Croydon could develop a similar model. Increase the tram network to Sutton, Crystal Palace and south to link up with Purley and Coulsdon to a park and ride scheme for traffic coming off the M25/M23

  4. ndavies144 says:

    Park and rides are fine but you’ve got to be able to get to them.

    In Oxford people have an easy drive from the outlying areas to the park and rides on the ring road. If you’ve got to fight through suburban traffic as far as a park and ride you may as well go the whole hog and fight the rest of the way to the centre.

    You could put one south of Coulsdon but that’s a long way out, maybe a 30-minute tram ride from Croydon, too long for most people I suspect, and very expensive to set up and operate.

    • mraemiller says:

      If you’re going to re-deisgn the whole of the Whitgift why not put the tram right through it rather than round the outside in a loop? Then it could link up East and West Croydon stations directly? Rather than going all round the houses … then you wouldn’t need a park and ride …then …then then…

      Then again why cant I get this pig to fly?

      In my experience Oxford’s park and ride is fine till 6:30 when it deactives and becomes a car town again and then it’s an insane free-for-all on the roads.

      Where are Kristian and the cycling lobby when you need them? Perhaps they can solve the park and ride conundrum?

  5. davidcallam says:

    The ability of politicians to avoid the question never ceases to amaze me.

    Councillor Godfrey: this time next year, you and your Labour Party comrades could be embarking on another period of government in Croydon.

    If so, will you welcome the boost to the economy that a Hammersfield revived town centre will bring to the borough and beyond: particularly in terms of jobs for young south Londoners?

    Or will you continue to bang on about the plight of secondary shopping parades?

    High Street shops are boarded up because:
    a) there are too many of them: in the Greater London area supply has exceeded demand since the end of the Great War; and
    b) the people you and your colleagues represent have long since voted with their feet and gone to shop elsewhere.

    Secondary shopping parades are anachronisms: supported by a small minority of people, albeit a very vociferous one.
    The stark choice is between a successful, well-connected central Croydon or a prosperous somewhere else and a ghost-town Croydon.

    Which would you prefer, councillor?

    • David, you know all too well what the impact of a badly thought out planning application could be. Not only traffic chaos, but boarded up shops in Old Town, South End, London Road and elsewhere.

      A properly thought out application, probably more like Liverpool One, than Westfield, could produce an integrated offer of locally owned shops leading to the jewel of an amazing shopping centre in the middle.

      Get it wrong, and we could end up with another bradford hole OR a gleaming shopping centre and boarded up shops surrounding it.

      In terms of the Croydon Offer, I think we have a lot further to go in fixing the cultural offer, fixing the education offer, fixing the housing offer in the town before we can guarantee a shopping nevana.

      The proof of this is one single shop: Superdry. It took a three storey let in the Whitgift Centre and transformed it into the most modern shop in Croydon. Sometimes you dont need to start from scratch to deliver what Croydon needs or wants.

      Of Course Labour welcomes major investment in our town, but you cant pretend that retail is the soloution to everything. Retail jobs in Croydon are at the bottom of the ladder. We dont have buyers. We dont have marketing departments. The last store to have that in Croydon was Allders.

      Croydon’s future is in better training, better education and creating a culture of business start ups and the place to grow your business. Get this right and then Croydon people might have the money to spend in the retail sector!

  6. Croydon certainly needs investment and Westfield can supply that by the millions. However, reading this article makes me worry that we will repeat the mistakes of the past. If we think `car only’ we’ll end up with Croydon become one giant car park (even more than it is at times already).

    If the Westfield/Croydon City plan is to go ahead it should do everything it can to boost travel by public transport in the same way of the Olympics last year. More cars dirtier air and more dangerous roads.

    This could be a golden opportunity to have park and ride scheme south and north of Croydon with a new London Tramlink line running from Coulsdon through Croydon and then up to Brixton/Streatham via Thornton Heath and Norbury.

    Whilst parking may already be expensive, at least it dampens down the number of car trips into Croydon. A more polluted, congested Croydon as a result of this development opening with wider roads and more car parks – and without new tram schemes – will be more 20th and less 21st century.

  7. “An immoral waste of money” was my shout from the public gallery at the Council meeting in response to the Tories extolling the alleged gains of the H&W scheme. Putting aside my long standing and ingrained hostility to large development schemes and tower blocks which are only designed to maximise developers’ profits and not meet the needs of the local economy and residents, we need to look very carefully at why supporters of the H&W scheme think that it is so potentially wonderful?
    A three month delay takes us to October, then there will be a period of public consultation and decision making in the months leading up to the local elections. This poses a big challenge to Labour. How should it respond to the planning application? If it opposes and the Tories approve, the latter will use it as a big stick against Labour in the elections.
    Any further delay could mean that the Council will make a final decision after any change in political control.
    So Labour needs to use the next few months to really think through what are the advantages and disadvantages of the potential scheme. It will need to do this in discussion with as many people as possible who have concerns, whether supporters of the scheme like David Callam or opponents. Above all it will need to think about what investment of the Community Infrastructure Levy will be most advantageous to the needs of creating jobs for Croydonians, and to improve the quality of the Croydon Town offer like H&W donating money to refurbish Fairfield Halls.

    • Sean: you appear to have misunderstood what is happening here. Hammersfield will go ahead, eventually, if the developers think they can make it pay. The profit margin is the one deciding factor here, not the council. The planning application will simply outline what shape and form it might all take.

      Our councillors may be able to influence a little here, or re-shape things a bit there. But as the Whitgift Foundation and Hammerson own the two major sites in the centre of town, they will determine what they build there, no one else.

      Croydon’s Tories and Labour councillors are just delighted to someone, anyone, might get some economic activity going in the town again. Because they’ve been unable to do so over many years.

  8. In his answer to a question at Monday’s Council meeting Cabinet member Vidhi Mohan states that H&W will create c5,000 direct and 3,000 indirect jobs. We need to question this claim.

    How many jobs exist in the current shopping centres affected by the H&W proposals?

    What will happen to those jobs if businesses have to close during the building works?

    Will they be lost jobs or can the businesses be re-located to preserve the jobs?

    What are the projected 5,000 direct jobs that will be created?

    What is the projected breakdown of the 5,000 jobs by type, pay level, full and part-time?

    Do they include existing jobs provided by businesses that are thought might re-locate back to the new complex?

    What are the 3,000 indirect jobs; are these mainly in construction?

    What is the breakdown of these 3,000 jobs?

    How many of the 8,000 jobs can be safeguarded for Croydon residents, and particularly young people who have not had the benefit of a university education?

    What is the current sq ft rental for businesses occupying the present shopping centres?

    What is the projected sq ft rental that businesses will be charged in the new development?

    What is the current average business rates charge on businesses in the present shopping centres?

    What is the project average business rates change on businesses in the new shopping centre?

    Will current businesses which re-locate during the construction phase be able to afford the new rental and business rate charges?

    How can the construction process be phased to minimise disruption to existing businesses and to prevent consumers being put off coming to shop in the area?

    Will H&W offer temporary re-location for existing businesses in a phased development, and meet all their re-location costs and giving them a reduced or rent free-period during the construction process?

    What will the effect of the construction be on those businesses in neighbouring properties not included in the H&W package? Will public access to them be reduced?

    What kind of businesses do H&W envisage attracting into the completed complex?

    Will they include businesses that Croydon residents will want to buy from as customers as opposed to perambulating ‘window shoppers’?

    What is the projected draw in of customers to the new complex from outside Croydon?

    Which shopping areas in Boroughs around Croydon may be adversely affected by the draw of customers away from them to the new complex, and how many jobs might be lost in those centres?

  9. davidcallam says:

    I’m confused by concerns about compulsory purchase. As I understand it, Hammersons and Westfield already owns the necessary land, or leases it, or has the support of those who do.

    The existing plot stretches from Wellesley Road in the east to Tamworth Road in the west; and from Poplar Walk in the north to George Street in the south.

    I confidently expect any deal to include the management of North End and I wouldn’t rule out an extension south to Katharine Street to include land previously acquired for the now defunct Park Place.

    The success of the H&W initiative will depend on large numbers of people visiting the shops. High footfall means high turnover – everywhere. It also means higher rents, higher business rates and substantial service charges.

    There will be plenty of work on offer and I reject as snobbery the idea that retail jobs are ‘at the bottom of the ladder’. They are infinitely preferable to no jobs at all.

    Profits will be good for all those who participate, but this is not a development for the faint-hearted or for lifestyle retailers.

    The deal is already strongly supported by Boris Johnson; beneath the buffoonery he is an ambitious city region politician who clearly sees the renewal of central Croydon as an economic transformation on a par with Stratford or White City.

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