CROYDON COMMENTARY: The complaints to the Whitgift Centre CPO have been raised by some of the country’s biggest businesses, and DAVID CALLAM says that their public opposition could end up in the law courts
Like Susan Oliver and commenter David Fell, I, too, have been looking at the objections raised to the Compulsory Purchase Order on the Whitgift Centre. They offer an interesting insight into the kind of arguments being deployed.
There’s a lot of jockeying for position among the larger players, of course. Minerva’s presentation of itself as a company always ready to support the development of central Croydon takes a good deal of swallowing when you consider the amount of unproductive land on which it has been sitting for years, not least the Allders site.
Notably, Minerva’s objections include a carp that the Whitgift Foundation being treated more favourably by Westfield than other leaseholders.
The Foundation will certainly be trying to retain as much control as possible. But the Whitgift Foundation is not a major property professional. Property deals change from day to day: the Foundation, like the Catholic Church, thinks in centuries.
There are a series of complaints about the CPO that do bother me. I wouldn’t expect them of a slick property development operation that intends to spend £1 billion in the town centre.
A number of objectors suggest that Croydon Council is using CPOs as a first resort, rather than a last. They complain about a lack of proper consultation on the part of Croydon Limited Partnership, the overall organisation representing Westfield and Hammerson; they complain of Croydon Council’s failure to answer basic questions (surely not?); and a lack of understanding of the needs of retailers.
From the publicity to date, I had assumed that every leaseholder had been invited to a meeting with the developers, where the implications for that business had been discussed in detail, including compensation for loss of trade. I had further assumed that all this had been done or was at least in hand before any announcement was made about the closure of the Whitgift Centre.
It seems from a number of the complainants, some of whom are national household names, that this is not the case.
I understand the inability of Westfield to give detailed plans for the rebuilding at this stage. I imagine the company is still in intense negotiations, but I am surprised and somewhat alarmed that John Lewis is still being touted as the anchor store in the new development.
The John Lewis Partnership is one of those firms that is seeing a significant rise in its “Click & Collect” business, and it already has the ideal premises for that on Purley Way, surrounded by a massive, and free, car park. Will it want a full service department store in the town centre? If it can negotiate an exceptional lease it might – 10 years rent-free, maybe – but that would make the centre as a whole less viable.
I remain strongly in favour of the new shopping centre, but it is infinitely more complex than developing an empty site, as was the quarry that became Bluewater.
And it has to be done properly.
It will be interesting to see what the planning inspector makes of these complaints and ultimately what happens if one or more of the objectors go to law: indeed, I understand there is already a request for judicial review in the pipeline.
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