Adding the words “at the earliest” would seem appropriate, as the project has already slipped by two years in the three years since it was announced.
With their trading report issued to The City this morning, Hammerson conceded that it could be 2021 before the supermall is ready to open. The Bradford experience – as we outlined here last month – seems to be all the more possible with each passing week of developer blight in Croydon town centre.
The Croydon Partnership of Westfield working along with Centrale-owners Hammersfield, to replace the tired old Whitgift Centre, was announced in 2013. Work on the new centre was due to finish by next year. Now, as Inside Croydon reported last October, delays at the council over the detail of some of the Compulsory Purchase Orders and what Town Hall sources suggest are “legal difficulties” means that the shiny new temple to retail won’t be open for business until… well, some time next decade.
This much was obvious when, as we first reported, some leaseholders still trading in the Whitgift Centre were offered renewals which would allow them to continue doing business from their current premises right through Christmas 2016.
Today, Building Magazine reported, “Hammerson has once again put back the start date on its flagship £1billion Croydon shopping centre, due to protracted discussions with local planners…” that’ll be Jo Negrini and her council department “… and potential anchor tenants” who could well be the apparently wary John Lewis, as we reported last month.
The developers had originally hoped to begin construction by 2015. But the CPO inspector’s report was delayed, and sources suggest that while that gave the council the green light to buy from the Whitgift Centre’s 153 different owners and occupiers, the legal team in Fisher’s Folly is struggling to seal the deal on a couple of key elements.Meanwhile, at the behest of Boris and local Tory politicians led by Barwell, vast sums of public money have been set aside to do what is seen largely as Westfield’s bidding.
Besides the costs of the CPO, Croydon, Transport for London or the Greater London Authority, or some combination of the three, have committed to spending at least £25million on a new loop of tram track which threatens to bring the town centre traffic to a standstill and appears designed only to benefit car drivers heading for the Westfield car park. And they are keen to spend another £50 million or more of public cash on road schemes where the A232 meets the Purley Way, which appears to benefit car drivers heading for…
Well, you get the picture.
Barwell originally claimed much of the credit for Westfield coming to Croydon. As well as being the area’s MP, at the time he also sat on the board of the Whitgift Foundation, the private schools-operating charitable trust which owns most of the supermall site and stands to be the biggest financial beneficiary of the project. Indeed, just last year he got re-elected to Parliament by including boasts in his election leaflets that “Gavin played an important role in making it happen”.
But today, after the Hammerson announcement, Barwell was adopting a much more arm’s length position with the project.“If there were further slippage I would be very concerned,” Barwell said, as if over-running by at least four years isn’t cause for concern enough.
“I’ve long been a very big supporter of this scheme,” Barwell said, perhaps forgetting as recently as last year he handed out election bumpf which said that it was him who had “helped bring Westfield and Hammerson to Croydon”.
“I think it’s very important for Croydon, but we do need to get on with it now,” Barwell said today, mastering the skill of stating the bleedin’ obvious.
“Everyone accepts it’s going to be three years of difficulty while it is underway…” or four years, if Hammerson’s latest estimate is anything to go by “… but everyone is keen to get on with it so we can get to the end point as soon as we can.”
Barwell also said that he has a meeting – another of his regular get-togethers with the Croydon Parnership – next week. “I will be asking them to clarify what the situation is,” he said.
Suggesting that now that he has lumbered Croydon with the mis-firing project, Barwell doesn’t actually know what’s going on.
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