The revised plans for a gigantic supermall submitted last week by Westfield and Hammerson threaten to send central Croydon into a state of traffic gridlock for years to come.
The shopping centre developers’ scheme could hit hard the plans for a refurbished Fairfield Halls, where the council has given a green light to turning its car parking space into an art gallery.
The late changes to the Hammersfield development have created a massive disconnect in the hoped-for smooth regeneration of the town centre. One of Croydon Council’s tasks was to try to minimise disruption during the redevelopment, but Hammersfield have chucked a £1.4 billion spanner in the works.
With the developers hoping (perhaps a tad optimistically) to send in the bulldozers at the old Whitgift Centre next year, they will begin demolition work around 12 months after refurbishment starts at the Fairfield Halls.
The demolitions – within one mile of each other along the urban motorway that is Wellesley Road – will see both sites completely closed down, including the respective car parks. From 2017 until 2020 (at the earliest), there could be only 250 available car parking bays where previously there was more than 3,000.
This will affect theatre-goers and concert-lovers going to the Fairfield Halls, and London-bound commuters who need somewhere to leave their cars during the day. Once what is left of the parking spaces are all taken at the Fairfield Halls, the next largest car park available until the Westfield finally opens – re-scheduled now for the end of 2020 at the earliest – will be the Centrale car park, tucked around the back of the tram loop.
The absence of any traffic reduction measures contained within the various plans produced from the Mayor of London’s office, Transport for London and Croydon Council now threaten to create worsening gridlock in the town centre for half a decade, with car-bound visitors to Croydon having nowhere to park their vehicles.
For the duration of the closure of the Whitgift Centre, with many of its stores displaced into Centrale and elsewhere, the amount of traffic coming into Croydon may be reduced. But the lack of any real attempt to discourage car use – largely at the behest of the Hammersfield developers who want people to drive into Croydon – is already being exposed as short-sighted.
The announcement that the Fairfield Halls is to sacrifice its car parking provision for an underground art gallery, with the council suggesting that threatre-goers could instead park at the new mall, also appears half-baked. The lack of convenient car parking provision after the £30 million council-funded refurbishment may deter visitors for the crucial first three or four years after the Halls are due to re-open in 2018.
The Croydon Partnership, formed by rival mall developers Westfield and Hammerson, revealed their drastically altered and enlarged plans last week, and will be seeking council planning approval after pre-application briefings this week and in June. It is less than a year since an exhaustive Compulsory Purchase Order inquiry was staged in Croydon to clear the way for their previous scheme.
In the council’s official report on the revised Westfield and Hammerson plans for the Whitgift Centre, it says, “Demolition of all car parks on the site, with all car parking now proposed at roof level within one connected car park, rather than two separate car parks. Car parking is also now proposed above the department store. Final car parking numbers have not been confirmed and negotiations are taking place to fix the parking numbers. The latest proposal by the developer is for a maximum of 3,140 spaces.”
Occupiers of the 1,000 flats that the developers intend to build on the site are unlikely to enjoy the best air quality, as they live beside a 3,000-space car park.
The report also highlights a bit of a flaw in Hammersfield’s cunning plan.
Under a heading of “Changes to the highway layout on Wellesley Road and Poplar Walk and vehicular access to the site”, the council officials’ report states: “The approved scheme provided for the northern access to the site off Poplar Walk. This is now off Wellesley Road and requires a southbound right-hand turn and the introduction of a new stop line on the northbound carriageway.” Those are our italics.
It doesn’t take a town planning wizard to realise the problems which this might create on an already overcrowded road which provides a route for around a dozen buses and which is crossed by the ever-busier tram tracks.
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