Planning chief: ‘I don’t know how long Whitgift will be closed’

The lack of clarity over the immediate future of the Whitgift Centre was compounded yesterday when a council director called in certain sections of the local media to provide an on-the-record briefing to contradict the information she had herself provided to the council cabinet meeting just hours before.

The face of a worried woman? Croydon's new head of planning, regeneration, environment, etc and so forth

The face of a worried woman? Croydon’s new head of planning, regeneration, environment, etc and so forth

Jo Negrini is the six-figure salaried “executive director of development and environment” who was hand-picked for the job because of her experience while at Newham council, working alongside Westfield for four years on their Stratford shopping mall. Negrini, who took up her post in January, is Croydon’s fifth planning chief in the space of little more than two years, but was appointed to bring “long-term stability to the department”, according to her boss, Nathan Elvery, himself the interim chief executive at Croydon Council.

On Monday night, as Croydon’s Tory-run council cabinet went through the motions and completed the foregone conclusion of approving compulsory purchase order powers for the £1 billion redevelopment of the Whitgift and Centrale shopping malls by Westfield and Hammerson, Negrini offered a briefing in which she stated that the Whitgift Centre would have to close for the three-year duration of the building works.

This was recorded by a local journalist and duly reported. By Tuesday morning, though, Negrini was doing a 180-degree about-turn, and providing a personal briefing to the same journalist to say that the shopping centre would not be closed and instead would be re-built in phases.

Clear as mud? It seems that even Negrini is unclear on the exact detail of what the Hammersfield developers have schemed. This is less surprising when you consider that the planning permission granted last November and since approved by the Mayor of London and the environment department is merely in “outline”, and that the Transport for London traffic plan, so vital for the major routes into central Croydon to service the vast retail centre, remains undelivered.

Croydon’s Conservative council has effectively signed a whacking great blank cheque for the future of the town centre, without demanding detailed proposals from the Whitgift Foundation’s developers before giving the go-ahead. It is signal of who really is in charge of Croydon.

After yesterday’s briefing, this is what Negrini, the local authority’s “executive director of development”, was quoted as saying by the Croydon Sadvertiser:

“What exactly the three-year construction period will mean for the Whitgift Centre isn’t clear, because the developers have yet to submit plans that detail the different phases.”

And this:

“What we don’t know yet is exactly how long the Whitgift Centre will be closed for.”

Hardly stuff to inspire confidence.

Negrini told the reporter that she could not recall telling Monday’s cabinet meeting that the centre would be closed for three years. You would think that someone as experienced and well-regarded on planning would manage to remember a detail as significant as a three-year shutdown of a town centre, affecting more than 300 shops and businesses.

“The developers have made a commitment to do it in a way that keeps as many of the businesses there for as long as possible, which it is in their interests to do,” Negrini offered yesterday. Of course, Negrini, Croydon Council and Hammersfield may be saying something entirely different tomorrow, or next week, or next month.

“Getting through this approval process is fairly straightforward compared to what we’re moving into which is the bigger challenge about how we take this town through the transformation.”

No shit, Sherlock.

Negrini also said: “We’re working with them, as well as the other developers, to create a logistics plan for the entire town centre. There is a lot of concern about gridlock, but the work we’re doing behind the scenes will make sure we’re prepared.”

Prepared? Like knowing whether the Whitgift Centre will be closed for three years or not?

“We’ll be doing everything we can to make sure that we make the detail as clear as possible to everyone as soon as we get it.”

Translated: We don’t have a Scooby-do ourselves at the minute.

“It’s in everyone’s interest to ensure we keep the whole town moving. The biggest challenge for us is making that happen.”

“Making it happen”? Some have little confidence in the ability of Croydon Council to deliver on that, or anything else, after they recently moved into £140 million “state of the art” new offices where farcically they could not even manage to get taps the right size to pour water into the basins in the rest rooms, requiring all the taps to be replaced within six months of opening the building, at a cost to the Council Tax-payer of £20,000.

Construction work on the Whitgift Centre is due to begin late next year. What Negrini was able to state, apparently with some real idea of what is going on, is that Marks and Spencer on North End will remain open throughout the re-building phase – a sort of Blitz spirit that suggests the next four years will be a bit of a battle for Croydon.

We asked Jo Negrini to comment on certain aspects of the council’s role in the CPOs and to explain her mis-information over the three-year closure, but she has refused to comment.

Maybe she doesn’t know?

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This entry was posted in "Hammersfield", Allders, Bernard Weatherill House, Business, Centrale, Croydon Council, Jo Negrini, Nathan Elvery, Planning, Whitgift Centre and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Planning chief: ‘I don’t know how long Whitgift will be closed’

  1. davidcallam says:

    President Ronald Regan once said the most frightening words ever uttered are: “I’m from the government (council) and I’m here to help.”

  2. davidcallam says:

    Let me be less flippant. It is possible that the Advertiser reporter misunderstood and therefore misreported what Ms Negrini told the committee on Monday evening, but she doesn’t want to be too confrontational with the local press at this early stage so she employs a diplomatic lapse of memory.
    Or it’s possible that the intrepid reporter got it right and Ms Negrini has since had hysterical retailers screening down the phone that a public announcement of this sort could stampede pre- Easter shoppers in the direction of Bromley or Kingston, or anywhere but Croydon.
    We await developments with interest.

  3. Kevin Beach says:

    I went to the Whitgift Centre a couple of weeks ago. I hadn’t been there for several years. What a change. How sad to see what was once Croydon’s star attraction has become so dismal.

    I suppose the developers and planners have done their sums about predicted footfall, turnover etc, for the future. But I do wonder whether shopping areas generally are going to survive internet shopping. I would never pay rent for retail premises these days unless I knew that I had a blue chip operation to run there for a very limited period.

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