The government inspector has finally delivered his report on the Compulsory Purchase Order for a vast swathe of central Croydon, giving the go-ahead for the £1 billion Hammersfield shopping mall to be built.
The Department for Communities and Local Government described the scheme, rather tweely, as “a revamp”. Suppose that’s better than calling it a £1billion Croydon facelift.
You could hear the sighs of relief in Fisher’s Folly over the traffic noise of the Flyover this morning as the inspector’s report was finally released, two months later than had been promised. But hey, what’s a few weeks? Back in 2012, we were told the new supermall was going to open in 2017…
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, issued his decision this morning to confirm the CPO following the recommendation of the inspector, Paul Griffiths.
“This is a day of celebration for Croydon residents,” according to Tony Newman, the leader of the supposedly Labour-run council which, since it took office 18 months ago, has done little to influence the scheme, which is overseen by Australian-owned shopping mall developers Westfield and will see the demolition of the Whitgift Centre.
Much of the 1960s-built Whitgift Centre is expected to be closed for at least three years while the building works take place. The demolition work is not expected to begin until early 2016, although even that may yet be delayed; Inside Croydon understands that all traders within the Centre have been told that they can expect to trade for two full Christmases – that is, 2015 and 2016 – under their new “flex leases”.
In Bradford, site of a previous Westfield venture, the city centre location of a proposed new mall stood vacant, untouched, for a decade before the developers eventually abandoned the scheme.
CPOs are used to assemble land for complex projects which involve multiple land ownerships. The Croydon CPO – Compulsory Purchase Order – will see our local authority buy up a 7-hectare town centre site, mainly the Whitgift Centre, to enable the developers to implement their scheme of retail, offices and “luxury” apartments.
According to the DCLG, the plans even include “community facilities”. They also include proposals for 136,500 sq m of retail space, 16,400 sq m of leisure facilities and 1,900 sq m of offices.
Newman, who had clearly swallowed a gullible pill with his breakfast, said, “Today’s decision is a monumental step forward for Croydon, and a vitally important stage in our town’s transformation into a modern, European city.” Except it won’t, because Croydon is already part of a world city. It’s called London, and you can get there in about 15 minutes by train, according to the advertising guff that comes from the various property speculators with over-priced flats to flog.
The government inspector held a public hearing at the council’s offices in February and March, when various existing businesses were able to air their objections to the scheme as it affected them. Not that it was ever likely to deflect the Hammersfield scheme to replace an ageing and decaying shopping centre with a … shopping centre. The inspector had been expected to publish his report in July.
According to the council’s press office this morning, “The Westfield/Hammerson scheme will see the existing Whitgift shopping centre transformed into a state-of-the-art retail, leisure and restaurant destination alongside hundreds of new homes, including affordable housing, which will deliver huge benefits for Croydon residents.”
Not for the first – or last – time, the council has trotted out the Hammersfield rhetoric that the shopping centre “is expected to create around 5,000 new jobs”. No one – neither the Whitgift Foundation or its cheerleader-in-chief, Tory MP Gavin Barwell, his campaign supporter John Burton, the Westfield director, nor Newman have ever been able to explain what these “5,000 new jobs” will be.
In reality, many are likely to be in retail, and most could end up being low-skilled, low-paid, even Zero Hours contract jobs.
Newman and the council’s press office’s mantra of Jam Tomorrow continues, “The Whitgift redevelopment is part of a larger £5.25 billion regeneration programme in Croydon, which aims to deliver 23,500 new jobs and 8,500 homes in the town centre by 2031.” A version of civic willy-waggling on an epic scale, and over such a lengthy timescale which ensures no one needs ever be held to account.
One line in the council propaganda today which was left largely unexplained was: “The council will now consider the inspector’s report in light of the remaining objections.” This is thought to include complaints from HSBC bank, among others, to the use of Dingwall Avenue, a public right of way which currently leads to the car park and the back entrance to Allder’s, “so that it can be redeveloped as a welcoming and attractive entrance to a new anchor store”. Meaning John Lewis. Another transfer of public property (however grotty) to private interests?
Another offering in the council’s propaganda this morning might also have rung some alarm bells for those who read between the lines, rather than accept things at face value: “The Croydon Partnership, the joint venture between Westfield and Hammerson, together with Croydon Council will continue to work over the coming months with all relevant parties to maintain the momentum for the scheme.”
“Maintain the momentum”? What momentum?
They said: “With all major regeneration projects, there are many work streams and milestones to be achieved. Today’s decision gives certainty that all of the land and rights needed for the scheme can be acquired in due course.”
Note that: “in due course”.
And there was also this: the CPO decision “… underpins the next stages of the project and work by the Croydon Partnership to secure all other agreements and consents that are required”.
Which suggests that, even now, Hammersfield have failed “to secure” some key agreements with existing leaseholders on the site.
The council has to be allowed to slip in the odd joke or two into its publicity for property developers. Such as this: “The council will work … to ensure that Croydon remains an attractive destination with a vibrant retail offer”. Seriously? Has Newman or Jo Negrini, the council’s planning chief, been inside the Whitgift Centre lately?
“We are absolutely delighted with today’s decision,” Newman said. Let’s hope that, in the fullness of time, Newman is not forced to regret such gushing approval for a £1 billion property development scheme.
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