CROYDON COMMENTARY: What can we expect from the outline plans for the £1 billion redevelopment of Croydon town centre submitted by Hammersfield – Westfield and Hammerson – which have won such speedy approval from the Town Hall to Whitehall? DAVID CALLAM sifts through the proposals
Shopping City is coming to Croydon.
That much we know from the successful application for outline planning permission granted to Hammerson and Westfield by Croydon Council, and the lack of any objections from the Mayor of London or the Secretary of State.
Will it happen? We can’t be certain until the builders are on site, but it seems more likely as the economy finally shows signs of life and Boris Johnson assiduously promotes Croydon as the third point in his huge Greater London retailing triangle.
Croydon is set to join Shepherds Bush in the west and Stratford in the east as what we might come to call (with apologies to Brent Cross) the capital’s “south West End”.
Anyone who dislikes change is in for a rough ride over the coming few years, as large sections of the town centre are demolished to make way for the new-look shopping complex. Amid the chaos, some parts will remain the same.
North End is unlikely to change its general appearance: the old Allders frontage stays, as do many of the other familiar facades. But the rabbit warren of buildings behind them will disappear in an operation similar to the one carried out nearby on the former Grants department store, now a multiplex with a couple of bars and restaurants.
The Whitgift Centre main entrance, once the gates of Whitgift School, will remain too, flanked by its two curved shop-fronts, but it will now open on to a new building that will house another entertainment complex.
The precise size of the new building and its finish are as yet unknown – they will depend on which entertainment company does a deal with the developers and precisely what kind of “entertainment” it wants to introduce; always subject, in theory at least, to local authority planning approval.
George Street (west) will remain familiar too with many of the frontages retained and refurbished and the tram stop moved to the other side of the road, where there is room to lengthen the platform.
Shopping City will have much greater “permeability” than the Whitgift Centre. In plain English that means more connections with the rest of the town.
An east to west walking route from East Croydon will link the station with Lansdowne Road, cross Wellesley Road at a new light-controlled surface crossing and continue through the shopping complex and across North End into what is now Centrale.
A north to south walking route will link Katharine Street, Park Street and George Street directly to Poplar Walk and onward to West Croydon station.
Both routes, we are promised, will be broad avenues and will have active frontages: that is to say, they will be lined with shops. The east/west route will be open 24/7.
The present Whitgift car park remains, but the Allders car park will disappear, to be replaced by rooftop parking, similar to that atop Centrale and reached by a similarly spiral ramp. The entrance to the new car park will be in Wellesley Road, but north of the exit from the northbound underpass; so the Yuletide parking queue will move further along Wellesley Road.
Dingwall Avenue will remain, but only as taxi access to a new department store that will occupy part of the site of the former Allders.
No doubt we are meant to assume this anchor store will be the long-promised John Lewis. Britain’s favourite retailer is certainly more likely to come to Croydon as part of this kind of major redevelopment, but there have been no public utterances from the partnership. Politicians’ promises on the subject – particularly in the run-up to next year’s council elections – should be treated with the utmost scepticism.
The Wellesley Road frontage of the Whitgift Centre will change completely (thank goodness!) with the present hotchpotch of drab buildings replaced by a series of high-rise apartment blocks. The developer’s computer-generated graphics make the tiers of balconies look like the skyline in Benidorm: not so much “mini Manhattan”, more as Max Boyce once called it: “Costa del Croydon”.
To get to the situation where such redevelopment can take place, the various “stakeholders” – the developers Hammerson and Westfield, the majority freeholders at the Whitgift Foundation, the leaseholders and the council – will need to bring all the properties into the scheme. This may see the need for Croydon Council to use CPOs.
Compulsory Purchase Orders are hedged about with restrictions of various kinds to prevent local authorities using them to distort the property market. Among other things, a local authority is not allowed to buy and hold property: when it applies for a CPO it must be able to show that it is immediately selling it on, usually for the purchase price – which should be the pre-blight value, including a percentage for inconvenience – plus any reasonably incurred administrative costs.
In recent years, Croydon Council has had “difficulties” effecting CPOs.
In the case of the Grants department store on the High Street, its efforts were thwarted more than once because third-party buyers suffered from property developers’ syndrome (all talk; no money).
The council threatened a CPO to acquire Croydon Gateway, next to East Croydon Station, for Arrowcroft, but found the land was owned by a patchwork of companies, some of which were determined to obstruct any sale and thus delay development. The developer was “reluctant” to raise money to buy part of the site, not knowing when it would be able to complete building work and thus recover its investment.
Park Place also required a degree of compulsory purchase to assemble the site. Again there was a problem with available cash and the matter was further complicated by a need for Croydon Council to proceed (shock, horror!) against the wishes of its chums at the Whitgift Foundation.
If any of the protagonists in the Shopping City development pushes negotiations as far as court, it will delay matters, but the developers and the council knew that long before the application was made for outline planning permission.
At this stage, we must assume they have left enough time and set aside enough resources for it not to become a problem.
The swift decision from Big Eric Pickles, announced on Wednesday, not to call the scheme in for planning consideration suggests to me that this is already a done deal.
Of course, there is always the unexpected: so watch this space.
Getting shoppers to and from Shopping City will be as important to the developers as the design of the complex itself: there are plans to invest in additional train, tram and bus services – although our politicians have yet to share these publicly – but without major changes to the road network, the enterprise will fail to attract major retailers and that will make the whole venture a non-starter.
So prepare yourself for huge upheaval. Little wonder that both the Greater London Authority and Croydon Council are being very coy about it at the moment.
As a minimum I expect substantial upgrading of the A23, with new junctions at Fiveways and Purley Cross, and as much additional dual carriageway between Thornton Heath Pond and Hooley as the planners can persuade us to accept.
I also expect the widening of Duppas Hill to provide a dual carriageway link between the town centre and the upgraded A23. And there will be junction “improvements”, added parking restrictions and more one-way working on feeder roads.
But I don’t expect such controversial plans to be made public until after the council elections next May, and possibly not until after the General Election in 2015.
Will anyone hurl a spanner in the works? I suspect Minerva will try. It still owns the Allders site and will be anxious to extract its pound of flesh when the time comes to sell. But it faces the combined might and political influence of Hammerson, Westfield and Boris Johnson, so I doubt it will succeed.
Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central, recently told the BBC’s Sunday Politics that this redevelopment of the town centre is the most important thing to happen to Croydon in his lifetime.
Hyperbole? Not in this case. Barwell was born in 1972, by coincidence the year I came to work in Croydon. I have taken a keen interest in the borough’s development ever since and I can’t think of anything bigger that has even been proposed in that time, let alone actually delivered.
This is a remodelling on a par with that of the 1950s and 1960s. It may even be bigger. It is certainly likely to have as positive an effect on the borough’s economy. It will create and sustain thousands of jobs.
Shopping City already has the backing of both major parties on the council as well as support from regional and central government. There will be expressions of disquiet from the usual quarters, but they are unlikely to make much impact.
This is Croydon’s last chance to regain its commercial success and the powers-that-be are all more than ready to embrace it.
- David Callam is a retired business journalist based in Croydon. For his previous columns, click here
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Coming to Croydon
- Cinema Ruskin: Dec 21
- Surrey Street Christmas market, Dec 22
- Community Carol Service, ACA, Dec 22
- STDLCC Screening: Now You See Me, Dec 27
- STDLCC Screening: Kolya, Dec 30
- Steve Knightly at Stanley Halls: Feb 5
- Purley Swimathon: Feb 8 and 13
- 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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- Property: Different set of rules applies in Croydon (standard.co.uk)
- North End: A century and a half of transformation (whitgiftfoundation.wordpress.com)