£1bn Westfield scheme is running late with a 2020 vision

The £1 billion shopping supermall which multi-national developers and Croydon’s biggest land-owners have been promising to deliver on the site of the run-down Whitgift Centre now won’t be open for business for more than five years.

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

How Westfield sees Croydon’s future, some time in the next decade

The delay in development was announced this week by a senior council official, and has been confirmed by a spokesman for the developers.

Work on rebuild-ing/redevelopment/regeneration/rejuvenation (delete to taste, depending on which PR bullshitter’s lexicon you prefer to use) will not begin before 2017 at the earliest, meaning all businesses and shop-keepers still based in the Whitgift Centre, together with their employees, have two more Christmases and at least 18 months of declining foot-fall and trading uncertainty to endure.

Talking at a Croydon Voluntary Action meeting, Matthew McMillan, the council’s “business investment adviser”, mentioned the shifting timelines almost as if in passing that the supermall – developed by Westfield and Hammersfield – will now not be opening until Christmas 2020.

That’s more than three years later than the property developers, and their clients, land owners the Whitgift Foundation, had originally intended when the project was first suggested.

It is now nearly three years since Hammerson and Westfield were first forced to work together in a shot-gun marriage of convenience, with Boris Johnson acting as the match-maker, and Gavin Barwell, the local Tory MP with a vested interest in the project through his position with the Whitgift Foundation, grinning from the front pew. The latest delays threaten to make the resulting “Hammersfield” the product of one of the longest gestations yet endured.

Local MP Gavin Barwell, left, won't have use for his hard hat for photo ops for at least 18 months

Local MP Gavin Barwell, left, won’t have use for his hard hat for Westfield photo ops for at least another 18 months

The slippage in the schedule is hardly the news which businesses in Croydon town centre will want.

With the closure of the Fairfield Halls likely to coincide with the shutting down of the Whitgift Centre, temporary outlets such as those proposed by Boxpark at East Croydon Station will have a lot of retail and dining-out slack to take up, as much of central Croydon will be turned into a vast building site.

Even if all goes to plan and on schedule, much of the 1960s-built Whitgift Centre will be closed for nearly three years while the demolition and then building works take place. As Inside Croydon reported last month, 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 an earlier proposed Westfield venture, the city centre location of a new mall stood vacant, untouched, for a decade before the developers abandoned the scheme (with new partners, they returned with a scheme that opens next month, 10 years after work first started). Fears that such a fate could befall Croydon – first aired on this website three years ago – must surely be growing with each passing month and every additional delay.

One of the reasons for the slowing of pace towards the development is the complicated and complex CPO. 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.

Tony Newman: starting a cultural revolution, apparently

Tony Newman: celebrating

The Westfield/Hammerson plans for the development include 136,500 sq m of retail space, 16,400 sq m of leisure facilities and 1,900 sq m of offices.

When the government inspector gave the green light to the CPO last month, Tony Newman, the leader of the Labour-run council, said, “This is a day of celebration for Croydon residents.”

It may finally be a day of celebration when our council abandons their self-appointed role as cheerleaders for multi-national developers and influential land-owners, and instead got on with the job they were elected to do, that is to represent rigorously the broader interests of all the borough’s residents, workers and businesses, and ensure that Croydon does not suffer a similar fate to Bradford city centre.

The next council elections are due to be held in 2018 – at just about the time when the bulldozers will be working full-throttle at the Whitgift Centre, around the Fairfield Halls and in re-routing the tram network along Wellesley Road. Newman’s election leaflets that spring will need to be extra-special, we would suggest.

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
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3 Responses to £1bn Westfield scheme is running late with a 2020 vision

  1. I think that means it has slipped three years in three years as Boris first intervened three years ago. That doesn’t inspire confidence. Clearly they need to get realistic with a competent project management framework. I’d like to see it happen and one might expect developers to proceed quickly with a scheme if it is financially viable.

  2. £1bn Westfield scheme is running late with a 2020 vision?

    The vision may well be 20/20, but one viewed through a device regrettably shared by Croydon politicians of both sides and planners of all sorts: smeary, rose-tinted spectacles.

    It’s a given, buoyed by a good deal of serious academic literature, that projects like this are late. As a project it is similar in scope if not size to the Big Dig in Boston. That was planned and run by a mixture of private enterprise, local authority and national agencies, much like the proposed Westfield/Wellesley Road/Fairfield Hall/Croydon College/Tramlink consortium, came in horrendously over budget and many years late.

    That is what will happen in our beloved home town: the likelihood of successful co-ordination of all the agencies, the finance providers and government in all its manifestations is minimal. 2025 might be a more realistic date to expect completion and by then the world of commerce, Croydon and the UK will have changed totally. If you see a crazed figure, ragged and in sackcloth and ashes roaming the streets of Croydon crying “Woe is Us. Westgate is coming” , this weekend its nothing to do with Halloween. Just me, reacting.

    • As Inside Croydon‘s loyal reader pointed out on Twatter last night, Westfield Bradford will be opening next month.

      A mere 10 years after they started work on the thing. If the same slow progress applies here, we could be waiting until 2027…

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