Two months late, Minister rubber-stamps Westfield CPO

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.

Local Government minister Greg Clark on a visit to Croydon earlier this year. Was he laughing with Tony Newman, or at him?

Local Government minister Greg Clark on a visit to Croydon earlier this year. Was he laughing with Tony Newman, or at him?

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.”

One of Westfield's imagined views of how the new mall might look: much of this area will be closed off for building works for three years - beginning now in 2016

One of Westfield’s imagined views of how the new mall might look: much of this area will be closed off for building works for three years

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.

Advertisements

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in "Hammersfield", Allders, Business, Centrale, CPO, Croydon Council, Gavin Barwell, Jo Negrini, John Burton, Planning, Tony Newman, Whitgift Centre and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Two months late, Minister rubber-stamps Westfield CPO

  1. arnorab says:

    Tony Newman (and his colleagues) did swallow a gullibility pill but I’m sure that it cost them nothing and was simply one of the lot that was left over after the last guilty Administration bought a wholesale quantity to fortify themselves for the Minerva/St Georges Walk/Katharine Street fiasco. It’s a pity the darn things last so long.

  2. What a bundle of joy this site is!!!!!!
    The new Westfield will be brilliant for our town. It will raise the tone of what is quite a run down part of London – Highlighted by the French rugby team!
    The knock on effect will be further new building projects attracted to Croydon, which in turn will create huge amounts of new homes and offices, which will also bring with it employment. Quite a lot of it. For some reason this site seems to think shop work is some sort of low grade. Well its a job and in many cases secure work.
    Its going to be messy but by what, 2020 Croydon should have had a lot of the work done. Westfield, the areas next to both sides of East Croydon, maybe they will even get round to sorting out St Georges Walk by then. This is all fantastic news, something this politically minded site could do well to note rather that point scoring.

    • Nick Davies says:

      The point about the “5000 new jobs” is that nobody seems willing to say if they really are new jobs or just replacing the jobs lost when the existing precinct closes. It would be helpful to know how many people will be employed in Hammersfield and how many were employed in the Whitgift, Allders, etc in the good times. That’s all roles by the way, not just retail work.

  3. joeycan says:

    So, how do we appeal against a compulsory purchase order where any comments on, be they for or against, have previously been gagged by this Council?

  4. sandilands02 says:

    They need to start now, not in 2 years time, also they need to make Croydon Westfield a destination that people want to come to, so somebody living north or east London come to Croydon for something different/ unique that the other two centres do not have.

Leave a Reply