“The £1 billion redevelopment plans for the Whitgift Centre should be given the go ahead, Croydon’s planning officers are saying,” reports a newspaper with a sharply declining circulation.
In other breaking news, bears shit in the woods and the Pope is of the catholic persuasion.
What the newspaper failed to mention, though, was that the council’s report has recommended approval of the Hammersfield scheme even though the developers have not yet completed the traffic study to consider the impact of their scheme on Croydon’s roads, or to try to find solutions to traffic gridlock on the town’s six-lane urban motorways which are already an issue for residents and visitors.
With members of Croydon Council’s Tory leadership so closely connected to the Whitgift Foundation, the owners of the majority of the freehold affected by the £1 billion redevelopment, there was zero chance of Croydon Council ever doing anything other than allowing the developers at Westfield and Hammerson to walk all over them. And, by extension, to walk – or drive their 4x4s – all over Croydon.
Our biddable council’s position is clear: “regeneration”, whatever form that might actually take, is all-important, almost regardless of the consequences.
The report – available here – is a 127-page uncritical overview of the scheme, while offering a litany of the major road works it may cause around the borough, and the promise of lots and lots more traffic.
The Hammersfield plans – the first to be presented formally to the local authority since July 2012 – are expected to go through on the nod at the council’s strategic planning meeting next Monday, November 25, without any real demands from the borough to ensure that the development is of the highest possible standards or will help to address some of the issues facing the community.
For instance, the need for affordable housing is swatted away, as if irrelevant, by the council. “Croydon Local Plan: Strategic Policies target of 50 per cent affordable housing is not achievable,” the report advises. So, of the 400 to 600 flats the developers propose to plonk atop of their shopping centre, it is recommended that Croydon Council accepts that fewer than 90 – or 15 per cent – will be affordable homes. Housing crisis? What housing crisis?
The plans include 1.4 million sq ft of retail space, and some “leisure facilities” (a mulitplex cinema? Another one? Really?). These plans have been submitted about two months later than Hammersfield had originally hoped. Much more delay, and opening in time for Christmas 2017 might be in jeopardy. Rush! Rush! Regenerate!
The delays in submission were understood to have been caused mainly by the near intractable problems of organising the traffic flow in and out of the town centre and its infamous car parks. The “modelling” of the traffic flows, and finding ways of improving it around the massive site and through the borough has still not been completed, leaving Transport for London – which has responsibility for the A roads and arterial routes across the capital – unable to say one way or another whether the plans are actually acceptable.
Despite this, the expectation is that members of Croydon’s strategic planning committee will wave the plans through on Monday week. Rush! Rush! Regenerate!
The committee’s anticipated approval will supposedly be subject to review by Boris Johnson – who is unlikely to be over-critical, since it was the Mayor of London who brought the two rival developers together to avoid a Mexican stand-off between Westfield and Hammerson – and Eric Pickles, the local government minister.
Maybe Johnson and Pickles will take a closer look at some of the unresolved issues presented by the Hammersfield scheme. The traffic worries are not restricted to central Croydon, but extend all the way south through the borough to the M25, as the new mall will make a grab for “the wallet share of north Surrey”, in the words of Kenley councillor Steve O’Connell (a phrasing so crass that it actually saw Boris taking the piss out of his Tory colleague on the floor of City Hall).
When Croydon councillors reviewed the scheme’s original draft, they raised questions about “car parking and traffic modelling”, “parking demands from uses – long stay”, “traffic and the wider road network impact”, “impact on Fiveways and other key road junctions”, “cycle route through east/west link”, “motorcycle parking”, “disabled drivers and accessibility”, “public transport”, and “park and ride opportunities” – the latter two considerations coming so far down the list as to be indicative of the lack of importance given by our elected representatives to reducing traffic volumes.
“There are a lot of traffic congestion concerns, especially the routes into London,” is the astute observation from the newcomer to the area, Chris Philp, the newly selected Tory candidate for the Croydon South constituency. If Fickle Philp is aware of the problem after spending barely five minutes in Croydon, then you’d think the local council might think it is an issue that it ought to be looking for solutions to ameliorate.
But no. For instance, the council’s latest report notes that the Hammersfield grand scheme is “non-compliant with an element of the development plan (in respect of London Plan parking policy)”, but brushes this aside, as if of no consequence. Rush! Rush! Regenerate!
Section 106 agreements – referring to part of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 – and the newer Community Infrastructure Levy are used by shrewd and well-run councils to get a “development benefit” for the community, a quid pro quo for allowing developers to go ahead with their multi-million pound schemes. In Croydon, where the Hammersfield project will create massive amounts of extra traffic on already over-crowded roads, the proposal is to get the developers to stump up around £33 million towards extra buses, extra tram services and other highway “improvement” schemes. Or less than half of 1 per cent of the developers’ overall budget.
Not much in the way of community benefit, then. The S016 proposal could even be viewed as simply getting the developers to contribute a tiny fraction of their budget towards making it more convenient for potential customers to get to their shops and spend their hard-earned.
Watch out on Wellesley Road, or at Fiveways, and probably all the way down the A23 into Coulsdon.
Our council planner states that “the effects on the highways network would not justify a refusal of planning permission, when balanced against the wider regeneration benefits to the town centre”. Rush! Rush! Regenerate!
Is this the turning of a local authority blind-eye to the impact of the £1billion scheme that could blight the borough for decades to come, and all for the commercial benefit of private developers Hammersfield and the Whitgift Foundation?
Has the local MP intervened on behalf of his constituents? Hmmm. Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central, keeps forgetting to mention that he sits on the governing board of the freehold-owners, the Whitgift Foundation.
“If the scheme is given planning permission, as I hope…” cheerleader-in-chief Barwell said last week, abandoning any objective judgement and failing to make it clear whether he was speaking personally, as the local MP, or as an influential figure for the Whitgift Foundation.
The council’s planning report too often merely parrots the sales spiel of the developers, including repeating the suggestion that the scheme will create 5,000 jobs. No one – not Whitgift, Westfield, Hammerson nor the council, not even Boris Johnson – has yet been able to provide any real breakdown of what sort of jobs these may be.
“It is considered that the proposed redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre and surrounding land is the most important site in the heart of the town centre which has the opportunity to act as a catalyst for the regeneration,” says the report. Rush! Rush! Regenerate!
Regeneration – good regeneration, the right regeneration – would only be welcome. The Hammersfield scheme offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to fix and improve a large swathe of south London. Trouble is, there are justifiable fears that Croydon Council is not acting in the best interests of the borough’s residents and existing businesses, but instead meekly acceding to the commercial motives of the Whitgift Foundation and their multi-million-pound developer partners.
- Death on the roads and achieving a new cycle for transport
- Council’s Mr & Mrs act that defies proper declarations
- Parliamentary watchdog investigates Barwell’s begging letter
Coming to Croydon
- Library’s Dr Who day: Nov 23
- Much Ado About Nothing: Nov 25
- Sex in the Cronx, Nov 26-29
- Future Tech City: Nov 30
- Follow in the footsteps of Pirie: Dec 1
- Comedy in Music show: Dec 1
- The Lives of Stanley Halls community entertainment: Dec 4
- Steve Knightly at Stanley Halls: Feb 5
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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