CROYDON COMMENTARY: DAVID CALLAM welcomes the Hammersfield redevelopment of the centre of town. After all, there is no alternative
The Whitgift Shopping City proposals are a way for the Whitgift Foundation to secure its financial future for decades to come.
Will the people of Croydon be paying extra council tax for years to fund a local authority investment in the scheme through compulsory purchase orders?
No. Council money will not be invested in the development. The CPO rules are clear: the council must have a commercial buyer ready to take immediate ownership of a property before it is allowed to issue an order.
Hence the debacle for the council in the past over the “Croydon Gateway” site next to East Croydon Station: it was never clear whether the developer had the funds available to buy it. Likewise Minerva, for all its bombast.
The closure plans for the Whitgift Centre need to be much better than the previous arrangement. Do you remember the upgrade of the centre in the mid-1990s? It was like The Somme. No bullets, but plenty of muck and duckboards for bewildered shoppers to cross the no-man’s-land of a building site.
Of course, there are risks in even a phased closure of a major shopping complex for three years. Neither Hammerson, nor Westfield, nor anyone else, knows what kind of retail market the Hammersfield shopping city will face when it re-opens.
But what is the alternative?
Croydon has been in decline as a shopping destination for decades – long before the most recent recession. I can remember retailers hoping that the last upgrade of the Whitgift Centre, now a generation ago, would bring long-lost shoppers back to the town. It didn’t. The consensus then was that the refurbishment hadn’t been radical enough.
Could the Whitgift Centre end up as a hole in the ground, like Bradford? Of course it’s possible, but I think it unlikely. The London economy has never been as badly hit as that of Yorkshire and there are too many ambitious politicians with reputations riding on the success of Croydon to allow it to fail.
You will accuse me of being heartless in not considering the short-term job losses; I’m not. I can remember interviewing successive groups of Allders staff as it became clear they had to go. It was difficult not to be moved by their stories. I would hope to minimise that kind of pain.
I believe the prospects for existing Croydon shop workers and for coming generations of retail staff will be brighter as a result of redevelopment. If we don’t do something now to halt the decline, many retail staff will lose their jobs anyway.
I believe there will be other big changes to Croydon as Hammersfield makes its presence felt in the town.
It will want the easiest possible access and egress by car to and from its shopping city.
Expect substantial proposals from Boris Johnson to re-model Fiveways and Purley Cross – but not before the local elections next month. And in a second phase, most likely to be made public after the General Election in 2015, expect further even bigger proposals to dual the A23 from Thornton Heath Pond or Mitcham Common to the M23.
The launch of Whitgift Shopping City will be massive, on the same scale as Stratford or White City, in an attempt to bring back to Croydon rich shoppers from the Surrey Hills and, I suspect, from as far south as the Sussex coast who haven’t shopped in the town for decades.
At present Croydon is a tip: the closure of Allders will have adversely affected every retailer in the town centre. Forget the PR hype coming from the council and others: the local economy is hurting.
Basically, we have two choices:
We can either manage the decline, waiting until somewhere further south decides to become a major retail destination. Then the remainder of our large stores will move out, leaving Croydon with just secondary shopping – a South Norwood or Streatham on speed.
Or we can reinvent ourselves as London’s largest shopping and entertainment destination, fit for the 21st century; the second-largest of its kind in the country after Trafford Park in Manchester.
I prefer the second option.
- Planning chief: ‘I don’t know how long Whitgift will be closed’
- Regenerate! Hammersfield £1bn scheme still lacks a traffic plan
- Minerva threaten legal challenge over Hammersfield scheme
- Money talks but 1% Cash deal could shape Hammersfield CPOs
- £1.5bn Hammersfield scheme hits a planning road block
- Mary Portas, Westfield, Bradford and a £1bn hole in the ground
Coming to Croydon
- David Lean Cinema: The Great Beauty, Apr 10
- Norwood Society Talk: Crystal Palace, Apr 17
- David Lean Cinema: Inside Llewyn Davis, Apr 17
- Opening of Marlpit Lane bowling and putting greens, Apr 17
- Arts and Crafts Market, Exchange Square, Apr 19
- Private Peaceful, Charles Cryer Theatre, Apr 23-26
- David Lean Cinema: Short Term, Apr 24
- Stop The Incinerator Beer and Bingo fund-raiser, Apr 28
- Norwood Society Talk: West Norwood – a place of change, May 15
- Croydon RFC charity memorial day, May 17
- Norwood Society Talk: The Concrete Church, June 19
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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