Ten compelling questions on the Whitgift Centre CPO

Susan Oliver Susan DavisCROYDON COMMENTARY: A once-in-a-lifetime regeneration, or a sinister land grab? SUSAN OLIVER, pictured, has some nagging doubts about the massive Compulsory Purchase Order on the Whitgift Centre taken out by Croydon Council on behalf of the Hammersfield developers

I was surprised to see that 141 objections have been lodged against the Westfield Compulsory Purchase Order, where our local authority endeavours to buy up properties to enable a development scheme to go ahead.

If 141 businesses and organisations took the time, and hired solicitors, to challenge this project, then surely many more people may think that way. And that means this side of the argument has not been properly represented by our elected councillors and in public debate.

If you read the papers on the CPO – and I encourage you to do so, including the submissions from the objectors as well as the council’s formal explanation – you will see that “a compulsory purchase order should only be made where there is a compelling case in the public interest”.

The most important word here is “compelling”. So I ask you: Is there a compelling need to change the Whitgift Centre into the Hammersfield Project?

Let’s look at the following:

Westfield's preliminary drawings for how they want to change Croydon

Westfield’s preliminary drawings for how they want to change Croydon. Will it really be any better?

1. The area around the Whitgift Centre, George Street and North End is already a major money-making area in Croydon and shoppers are used to going there. Radically altering this could jeopardise what we already have, which would be financially and socially irresponsible.
2. Major construction in this area may encourage shoppers to go elsewhere (like Bromley) and they may not come back. Or it could take huge efforts to bring them back, and these efforts – like tram re-routings – may not be worthwhile for the town as a whole.
3. The Whitgift Centre claims that it had a bumper Christmas shopping period. If this is true, then may be things are not critical for the centre after all? According to their own publicity, it is a popular shopping destination and able to attract people from outside the borough.
4. Any under-performance of the Whitgift Centre – specifically, complaints about low occupancy rates – could be addressed with improving the existing centre itself, just as has been the case with Superdry.
5. Concerns about the design, layout and configuration of the Allder’s building could be addressed by changing the interior of the building.
6. The people of Croydon are not suffering because of the state of the Whitgift Centre, they are not complaining about the aesthetics of the Whitgift Centre.
7. The fact that people have not taken to Centrale proves that looks aren’t everything and that the public may not take to the glitzy facade of the Hammersfield project in a way developers are suggesting.
8. The glamourous Hammersfield facade may only serve to remind some Croydon residents how impoverished we are, and so create social tensions around why the project was supported. This would be dangerous in the light of the 2011 riots, when the apparent wealth of the shopping mall was a target for attacks by looters.
9. This area of Croydon already supports many jobs. While it is closed, some of those jobs may be lost, affecting people and businesses. Let’s not be cavalier about the losses that will be felt by some people.
10. The disparity between the appearance of Hammersfield and the rest of the town centre will be colossal. It will be so colossal that the public has reason to worry how the rest of the town centre will be treated if Hammersfield goes ahead. The residents and shop owners of Hammersfield may look down on the rest of the town. Will we be pressured to spend millions of pounds to improve the rest of the centre for them? How can this be appropriate in a borough with such a low median income? Will the high-flying executives of Hammersfield eventually demand that the Alms Houses be relocated?

These are 10 reasons that challenge the “compelling” nature of the CPO. Some people may want the CPO – they may think it’s beneficial for Croydon. But it is not crucial. It is not compelling. 

And therefore it does not meet the required legal criteria for a CPO.

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6 Responses to Ten compelling questions on the Whitgift Centre CPO

  1. Nick Davies says:

    Well said Susan. But expect the wrath of the Glee Club. They’ve swallowed Hammersfield hook line and sinker as the only way of saving Croydon from oblivion.

    I’ve never figured out why rebuilding the shopping precinct should make any difference to anything; surely it will contain all the same shops just in a different order. Once that novelty wears off we’ll be back where we were. But then I’m one of those who finds visiting a shopping precinct a rather distressing experience, and beats a hasty retreat as soon as the business in hand is done.

  2. Well said, indeed, Susan.

    The whole thing is a self-inflated con trick which is going to lead to disaster for Croydon.

    Just remember that the last time CPOs were used in a similar situation was for the ill-fated development of St George’s Arcade, Allders, Katharine Street…. now pretty well all derelict and undeveloped. And all this happened because gullible councillors believed the snake oil promises of big developers. It’s going to happen again, alas and alack.

  3. mandolin456 says:

    What is happening to St George’s House, I now see it being demolished.

  4. mraemiller says:

    “The people of Croydon are not suffering because of the state of the Whitgift Centre, they are not complaining about the aesthetics of the Whitgift Centre”

    No one’s ever asked me but since you bring it up I miss the travelator and the spiral staircase.
    Let’s face it …it was always a rather boring set of concrete units… which will be replaced by a set of concrete units. Indeed apart from the fact it never seems to rain in Westfield’s simulated pictures they look remarkably similar to what’s there now.

    You’ll be asking us to evaluate the aesthetics of George’s Walk next. What I want to know is where we’re supposed to shop when the place is out of action. Presumably they’re not going to do it a section at a time. That would be sensible.

    Centrale / the Drummond Centre has always been a white elephant because there was never the capacity to support endless shopping centres. Also it is an odd shape. One of the nice things about the Whitgift Centre is it was built originally with large open spaces inside. The leaky roofs were added later. So there’s a sense of social space inside them which Centrale lacks. Will the Whitgift Centre II have the same quantity of social space? I doubt it…

    I’m a huge admirer of Croydon Village Outlet – if only someone had thought to have an Arthur-Daley’s-Lockup themed department store before…

  5. derekthrower says:

    Is it my failing memory or didn’t they say the new Whitgift Centre would be up and running by 2018 at one time during this process? Looks like the developmental drag that Croydon suffers from will not be going away for at least another decade yet.

  6. This has to be the most ridiculous short sighted thread I have EVER seen,
    The Whitgift Center is on its knees. Its horrible, a third empty, a place where shops go to die.
    How on earth there can be any sane person making a case for retaining it is beyond me. The new Westfield will be fantastic for Croydon. The impact of it will raise the standards and quality of the whole of Croydon. It will make us a destination for people from the South coast, up and out to the likes of Sutton, Bromley etc etc.
    Despite what the author says Westfield will entice retailers and high end ones at that. The catchment area is so great that high end retailers know they will succeed in Croydon. This will have a knock-on effect for the rest of Croydon.
    What with the massively increased homes being proposed for Central Croydon, I believe we will become a magnet for businesses looking for relatively cheap office accommodation, a ready made work force, fantastic public transport links and with a bit of luck a downright nice place to be.
    The author obviously has low standards and would happily see Croydon rot.
    Fortunately there are enough people ( And I certainly include Gavin Barwell in this) in Croydon who have vision for huge improvement in Croydon. God help us if these doom mongers get anywhere near a position to influence decisions on Croydons potentially bright future.

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