How the Whitgift CPO is proving bad for Croydon’s business

Susan Oliver Susan DavisCROYDON COMMENTARY: As the inquiry into Croydon Council’s Compulsory Purchase Order for the Westfield and Hammerson development of the Whitgift Centre enters its second week at Fisher’s Folly, SUSAN OLIVER, left, asks what it may be doing to the town’s reputation for doing business

More than 150 businesses are affected by Croydon’s Compulsory Purchase Order, or CPO, which entered its second week of hearings at Bernard Weatherill House today. There have been 141 objections lodged against the CPO, under which our local council is endeavouring to buy up properties to enable a development scheme to go ahead.

If you read the objections – and I encourage you to do so – it becomes clear that this is not a joyous happening in our town.

This is happening to the business community of Croydon, part and parcel of the town centre, who have created significant value here and have invested millions over the years, not only in bricks-and-mortar but also in jobs and training of town’s people. They have been part of the general economy and contributed financially through business rates, VAT and taxes.

Many of these businesses decided to stay in Croydon after the 2011 riots. Some suffered in the riots, most endured a business downturn afterwards. There may have been some financial uncertainty at that time but they opted to stay, helping the town and its people weather that storm, much more than anything the politicians could do.

The bright new future for the Whitgift Centre. But will it be worth it for existing businesses affected by the CPO?

The bright new future for the Whitgift Centre. But will it be worth it for existing businesses affected by the CPO?

Given that, it is astonishing that these businesses are being treated in such a callous way. It is not enough to justify this approach by dismissing the businesses, and some of their CPO objections, as being obstacles in the path of “progress”.

Let’s bring this down from an intellectual level: how would you feel if your house was under threat of a CPO? Or if you needed to sacrifice your business, job or way-of-life for the sake of a super-mall?

This is more than just a legal snarl, we are talking about people’s livelihoods and investments. It’s okay for businesses to want to protect their investments – after all, these investments helped to strengthen the town.

Businesses under threat of possession have a lot to lose such as the following:

  • Legal costs invested in setting up business and buying the leasehold
  • Future financial increases of the leasehold itself
  • Money that would have been made while trading
  • Financial insecurity due to being relocated
  • Loss of identifiable location which shoppers have become used to
  • Loss of any investment made in the physical aspect of the property (in the case of Superdry, a renovated frontage)
  • A thousand and one things that I haven’t thought of

After Croydon has pissed off so many businesses, will any of them ever want to return?

This question really strikes to the heart of the insecurity that this deal is creating. Businesses want security, and yet here in Croydon we are removing that security. How much can these businesses take before they just decide to leave altogether?

Based on previous, and not very wel-handled, CPOs in Croydon, some people argue that some of the objections may be vexatious, from businesses who are just angling to get a bigger slice from the pay-out. But if that were the case, why are successful businesses which are not under direct threat objecting?

Weatherspoons is such a business. The successful pub chain is only being asked for access during construction, but they still lodged a strongly worded complaint. Short and to the point (unusually for lawyers), their objection accuses Croydon Council, the “acquiring authority”, of failing to show that the CPO is necessary, of failing to consult, and failing to try to acquire the rights by agreement. This reflects poorly on the way the matter has been handled by the council, and therefore reflects poorly on Croydon. 

There may be other business people who feel the same way, but don’t feel like paying a lawyer to make an objection.

The sum-total of all this is that the reputation of Croydon as a place to do business must be taking a real beating. And this is progress?

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This entry was posted in "Hammersfield", Allders, Business, Centrale, CPO, Croydon Council, Environment, Fairfield, Gavin Barwell, Jo Negrini, Planning, Whitgift Centre and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to How the Whitgift CPO is proving bad for Croydon’s business

  1. Good article, many thanks.

    It is clear to me however that much of Croydon town centre is, to put it bluntly, dying. Wandering round the highstreet, Whitgift centre and Centrale there are vast swathes of empty shops. Vacancy rates in Whitgift must be approaching 50% – particularly in the area furthest from the high street. Whole rows of shops lie empty while Centrale fairs little better.

    Reading through the objections it seems to me that most businesses simply (and quite understandably) have their own best interests at heart. For me however it would be a shame to allow three years of disruption, as bad for these businesses as it will be, to stand in the way of the chance of something better. There are enough empty shops in the town centre for it not to be beyond the realms of possibility to accommodate every existing shop. Westfield (and the CPO) is far from perfect, but given their success in Shepherd’s Bush and Stratford it seems to me like it’s the best chance of arresting the continued decline of our town centre.

    While Westfield bashing seems pretty popular on here, I’m yet to hear of an alternative plan. I’m not sure how much longer things can go on as they are.

    • There was an alternative plan, David.

      It was the plan which few ever got to see from Hammerson, which was elbowed out of the way when the MP for the Whitgift Foundation, Gavin Barwell, went running to his mate Boris to force through the “marriage of convenience” with Westfield.

      It is easily forgotten: Hammerson were originally appointed by the majority leaseholders in the Whitgift Centre.

      Westfield were the choice of a single freeholder, the Whitgift Foundation.

      There is a theme throughout the CPO objections: little or no consultation, little or no negotiation.

      We’re being presented with a £1 billion pig in a poke, and none of our elected representatives appear in any way interested in delivering what is best for the people of Croydon, provided the interests of a single large landowner are served.

  2. This development is already shaping up as one of those prize cock-ups at which Croydon is so good. Who could forget the Gateway shenanigans, with a Labour administration approving alternative plans for the town centre site over which it never had any legal control. Or there’s Park Place, most of the land for which remains idle and unloved to this day.

    Is there nobody among the highly paid professional administrators in Bernard Weatherill House who can get a grip on this situation? Or must we ask Boris Johnson yet again to sort out the mess?

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