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.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.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.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.
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