The MP, the charity, the £1bn scheme and a three-year closure

The Whitgift Centre is to be closed for three years – and that’s according to the MP for the Whitgift Foundation, so it must be true.

The MP for the Whitgift Foundation

The MP for the Whitgift Foundation

There has been confusion this week over the plans for the £1 billion re-development of the town centre shopping mall by Hammerson and Westfield after the council cabinet was briefed on Monday night by the Town Hall’s senior planning director that the Whitgift Centre would have to be shut down completely during the works, which are expected to last at least three years.

The following day, the same council official, Jo Negrini, the “executive director of development and environment”, offered an on-the-record media briefing in which she denied any recollection of mentioning the three-year closure, and suggested instead that the re-development work would be conducted in phases.

But Gavin Barwell MP has taken to Twitter to contradict Negrini, stating, “Did any of you think the Whitgift Centre was going to be knocked down & rebuilt without it closing??”

Barfwell is a member of the board of the Whitgift Foundation, which owns the freehold for much of the Whitgift Centre.

Barfwell denies that there is any conflict of interest between his public office as the MP for Croydon Central and his position on the board of the charitable trust that owns vast swathes of the borough’s business district, all coupled to his loud and proud public support for the Foundation’s chosen developers, Westfield, who just happen to be donors to the Conservative Party.

Barfwell has welcomed Westfield and Hammerson offering £29million in Section 106 payments towards the road-building and other public works necessary to support a scheme which is likely to come in at more than £1 billion; he supports Monday night’s council decision to agree to Compulsory Purchase Orders on any property owners who will not readily sell up to the developers; and he has condemned anyone who has called for the development to include significant levels of (low-profit) social housing within the scheme.

Last year, Barfwell’s MP’s office received £125,000 of public money towards his staffing costs; in next month’s local elections, three members of Barfwell’s staff are standing as Tory candidates.

Barfwell claims that he excludes himself from all Whitgift Foundation meetings that discuss the Hammersfield re-development. We only have his word for that, and he is a professional politician…

But despite being absent from all of these key meetings, Barfwell certainly seems to know every intricate detail of the scheme, even to the extent that he is prepared to contradict publicly Croydon Council’s senior-most official in planning.

“There is certainly more detail to come but timeline hasn’t changed & hardly newsworthy centre will close while it’s rebuilt,” Barfwell tweeted. “Opening in early 2018 has always been the timeline,” he said.

On Tuesday, the MP for the Whitgift Foundation wrote: “Westfield and Hammerson have signed an agreement with the Whitgift Foundation. They’ve bought the head lease off Royal London Asset Management and they are in negotiations with the other owners. But given the complexity of the land ownership, it is possible that they won’t be able to reach agreement with all parties within an acceptable timeframe.

“That’s where a CPO comes in. Councils have the power to force people to sell their property at the market rate provided an inspector determines that the project concerned would bring sufficient social, economic and environmental benefits.

“I strongly support the decision the Cabinet took last night.”

Gavin Barwell MP refuses to resign his position with the Whitgift Foundation.

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5 Responses to The MP, the charity, the £1bn scheme and a three-year closure

  1. davidcallam says:

    So now we know, the Whitgift Centre is closing for three years, but shops that front onto North End may continue to trade throughout.
    In the case of M&S, approximately half the shop belongs to the company and the other half to the centre: so will we have a temporary partition separating retail from construction?

  2. How can the smaller businesses that DON’T front the High Street afford to lose three years’ takings? Good job IC, but the name-calling and slavish anti-Tory carping does you no credit.

  3. Did you know ‘Devotes News’ is an anagram of your name???

  4. davidcallam says:

    Let me tackle Christopher’s first point. I hope retailers in the Whitgift Centre were given prior notice of the forthcoming closure, though I wouldn’t be confident about that. I would also hope that they may have been offered special terms on shop units ‘over the road’ in Centrale or maybe in Stratford or White City.
    If they haven’t been so offered it may be time to decide whether the business still needs a shop, in say Bromley, Sutton or Kingston, or whether it could do better trading from a well-designed website, with an edge-of-town warehouse for storage, picking and packing.
    There might even be a case for becoming a mobile trader and visiting a selection of well-attended events markets at race courses, open days or county shows.

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