Regenerate! Hammersfield scheme lacks a traffic plan

“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.

One of Westfield's early

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

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).

Jammed: This could be a familiar view of Croydon if the palns for Hammersfield are not got right

Jammed: This could be an all too  familiar view of Croydon if the plans for Hammersfield are not got right

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.

Gavin Barwell: Croydon Central MP has a conflict of interest of Hammersfield through his role with the Whitgift Foundation

Gavin Barwell: Croydon Central MP has a conflict of interest of Hammersfield through his role with the Whitgift Foundation

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.

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5 Responses to Regenerate! Hammersfield scheme lacks a traffic plan

  1. Take it, or leave it.

    Hammerson and Westfield might not have expressed themselves is such stark terms thus far; the iron fist may still be wrapped in the velvet glove. But I would be surprised if councillors hadn’t been reminded that central Croydon has been in commercial decline for a generation.

    At least two major developments – Croydon Gateway and Park Place – collapsed before the respective sites were even cleared: both remain fallow, as a stark reminder of what failure looks like.

    West(field) Ham(merson) is a huge undertaking that will change the shape of Croydon town centre for ever: there will be consequences that even the developers can’t foresee at this stage, let alone Boris Johnson or Croydon Council.

    So are we being asked to take a lot on trust? Yes we are.

    And is it wise to do so? Consider the alternative: we ask for time to gaze at our collective navel; we make demands to which Hammersfield is unwilling to accede; it walks away. We wait another 25 years for a development of similar scope.

    Meanwhile, land values in central Croydon drop like a stone; a bankrupt council is forced to raise local taxes even further to plug another gaping hole in the CURV; the Whitgift Centre, in which 20 per cent of retail floor space is now empty, declines even further.

    And Hammersfield or someone else makes matters infinitely worse by building an all-singing, all-dancing retail and entertainment complex elsewhere in south London.

    There are a number of points that concern me about this outline planning application, principally the inadequacy of the road network surrounding it.

    The developers are no fools: they know the capacity of carriageways they need to service their new complex. And they know that however successfully they fill it with retailing names of the moment, it will fail if the one-third of shoppers who are predicted to visit by car are forced to join a queue of standing traffic on their way to and/or from the shops.

    Since Hammersfield is not in the habit of failing, I guess it has already discussed road widening and other traffic measures with the council – including, in such a marginal borough, the Labour opposition – and already obtained private assurances that the necessary works will be agreed when the time comes.

    No need to frighten the voters by making any of this public before next year’s council elections, but maybe immediately afterwards, to allow the maximum time for the brouhaha to die down before the council faces the electorate again.

    Despite my misgivings I think I prefer the prospect of a totally regenerated central Croydon and all that goes with it, to that of the rather tatty place the town centre has become in the past decade.

    • mraemiller says:

      “At least two major developments – Croydon Gateway and Park Place – collapsed before the respective sites were even cleared: both remain fallow, as a stark reminder of what failure looks like.”

      The nightmare senario is that they will pull down the Whitgift Centre and not actually build anything in its place because they will all have fallen out with each other by then. Then something will get built but only ages later. What’s going to happen to the existing stores in the meantime? And where are all the old people who sit on all the benches going to go?

  2. I went shopping in central Croydon earlier today for the first time in months.

    What a dump!

    I had my first sight of the car-boot sale that is now camped in the former Allders store: anything to make a quick buck – poor old Joshua must be gently spinning.

    The tatty stalls extend into the once haughty Whitgift Centre too, making it almost indistinguishable from scruffy North End.

    Come friendly Hammerson bulldozer and put this travesty out of its misery.

  3. Problem is, David, the Whitgift Centre is the nicest place in Central Croydon (CC). So why tear it down? Even if you believe in regeneration, it doesn’t make sense to start with the most attractive bit first.

    If you think CC looks bad now, what’s it going to look like next to the glamorous H&W once its built?

    The question for me is in regard to the degeneration of CC. How and why did it happen? This is a very big question that needs answers. It’s actually tragic that it’s degenerated so much. CC should be the economic powerhouse of the borough. Why isn’t it?

    I think it’s due partially due to a political structure that leaves Croydon Central bereft of leadership. I think that CC has basically slipped through the cracks for a number of reasons. And, again, that is tragic for a whole city to slip through the cracks! For it not to get the attention or leadership it needs.

    Croydon Central is a city that needs a separate political arm so it can provide clear vision for the future and handle problems quickly. Especially with the influx of people and capital on the horizon, CC needs its own management structure in order to meet the increasing challenges that will inevitably arise. Without an elected Mayor, CC is handled by the Council and it is woefully underserved by this structure.

    Sadly, I don’t think it will ever happen. It’s too much of a game-changer. It would be hazardous for both parties to let go of CC, so they’d rather throw away the baby and make the public sip the bathwater.

  4. davidcallam says:

    Susan: I think you’re becoming confused.

    Central Croydon is not and never will be a city. It’s part of the London Borough of Croydon.

    But the bit in the middle will soon have its own management – Hammerson & Westfield – who will rebuild it and then run it for the benefit of its owners, who include The Whitgift Foundation.

    To that end the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has traffic boffins beavering away to create easy access and egress for shoppers between central Croydon and places like Thornton Heath, Purley and Addiscombe. No doubt that will involve road widening, extra one-way systems and more parking restrictions.

    The town centre will be better managed – correction: it will be managed – under the new arrangement, but it will also be drastically different.

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