Brexit uncertainties could mean a crisis for Croydon’s face lift

In the aftermath of yesterday’s EU Referendum, WALTER CRONXITE finds some senior figures close to the £1.4bn Whitgift Centre redevelopment feeling very nervous about its prospects

“The real fear now must be that Westfield walk away. They’ve done it before, after all. Look at Bradford.”

An artist's representation of how the new shopping centre may, or may not, look

The Hammersfield mall first proposed for Croydon. Brexit might put all plans on hold

That’s the view of a senior Croydon figure, closely connected with the council and familiar with the proposals to build a £1.4billion supermall to replace the Whitgift Centre, after the announcement this morning that the British public had voted to quit the European Union in yesterday’s referendum.

For one of Croydon’s three Remain-supporting MPs, Steve Reed OBE, the referendum outcome is nothing short of a “crisis”.

“It’s a crisis,” the Croydon North MP told the Croydon Guardian. “It’s a political, economic and constitutional crisis – but it’s one the British people have voted for.”

The thing is, the crisis could be a lot closer to home than anyone in Croydon imagined when going to the polling stations yesterday.

The impact of the 52%-48% vote in favour of Brexit has already been felt on the currency and stock markets around the world, with Sterling taking its biggest hit for 30 years, shares in housing firms falling by 40 per cent once the London markets opened, and the Bank of England pledging £250billion from its reserves to shore up The City’s finance sector.

All of that market activity could have an impact on investment and development in Croydon, both by the private sector and for the council’s own housing schemes.

But it is the biggest Croydon face lift of all time, the scheme being run by Westfield and Hammerson, which has the most at stake for the town centre.

It is nearly four years since the Hammersfield scheme was first announced, as a supermall panacea to Croydon’s economic woes, and a regeneration development which had the borough’s Establishment, led by the land-owners at the Whitgift Foundation and their egregiously ambitious tame MP, Gavin Barwell, doing back-flips at the prospect of coining it from the tired, old Whitgift Centre.

Gavin Barwell MP:

Gavin Barwell MP: “devastated” by referendum result

This morning, Barwell said he was “devastated about what the country has chosen to do” over the referendum. Privately, his concerns are sure to include the Whitgift Centre development plans.

Since Barwell first claimed the credit for luring Westfield to Croydon, progress has been glacially slow. Work has not even begun on the new mall, which was supposed to be open and ready for business in 2017; 2021 is now the most optimistic estimate of when the place might have regenerated.

The referendum result throws even that into doubt, as the international investment markets look very different for projects in Britain than they did just 24 hours ago. And Australian-based retail developers Westfield, part of the “Croydon Partnership” with Hammerson, who were once eager to carve up a large part of the town centre for their profits, are not known for their sentiment when it comes to their bottom line.

“The Whitgift Centre is very tired and in desperate need of some serious investment,” the senior figure told Inside Croydon, on condition of anonymity. “Everything has been staked on Westfield coming in to redevelop it. If that does not happen now, you dread to think what might happen.

“Westfield are known to be ruthless in matters of business. When a smaller scheme, in Bradford, didn’t add up for them, they walked away, and left a massive crater in the city centre for a decade, until they finally found someone else to come in and develop the scheme for them.

A prolonged developers' battle over central Croydon could have blighted the town for a lengthy period

Westfield abandoned their development in central Bradford for a decade. The Brexit market slump revived fears that the developers might do the same in Croydon

“And even that continues to blight parts of Bradford now.

“I do worry that one of the first impacts of Brexit on Croydon will be to threaten the Westfield scheme.

“The new plans they have put forward include twice as much residential, most of it in very tall blocks. But if the housing market suffers a set-back after the referendum, and there’s no longer the money in it for Westfield in building 1,000 new homes, they could decide not to bother.”

Those fears have been voiced by the council leader, Labour’s Tony Newman. The referendum result, Newman said, “has the potential to damage growth and potential in Croydon”.

Newman said that the council will be seeking an urgent meeting with Westfield and Hammerson to seek assurances. “There’s clearly a potential risk. I’m confident we’re in a strong enough position to withstand most things but nowhere is immune if the economy really goes into a tailspin.”

In other words, it could be 2008 all over again.

Jo Negrini: she doesn't want Croydon to be boring

Jo Negrini: faces an interesting start to her new job

The prestigious “Croydon gateway” site, alongside East Croydon Station, stood derelict for more than a decade as a consequence of the global economic crash. Work only began on the Stanhope and Schroders-owned Ruskin Square site 18 months ago. Meanwhile, development blight  is already showing signs of taking hold elsewhere in the centre of Croydon as other businesses wait for Westfield and Hammerson to get on with their as-yet unnamed scheme.

Today’s date is significant at Croydon Council for another reason, too. It marks the last day of the last full week that Nathan Elvery, the Croydon chief executive, is employed at Fisher’s Folly.

Elvery might just consider he has got out at the right time.

Jo Negrini, Elvery’s Australian-born interim replacement, was widely thought to have won her job as Croydon’s development chief because of her close working relationship with Westfield during her time working for another local authority as the developers built their mall at Stratford.

Now, Negrini may need all the fair dinkum help she can get from her Aussie mates now to ensure that Croydon’s biggest development is not slowed further, or halted altogether.

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
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27 Responses to Brexit uncertainties could mean a crisis for Croydon’s face lift

  1. farmersboy says:

    Don’t panic! Gav’s got a Plan B.

    “Er, have I? Oh yes. Yes, I jolly well do. I’m proud to announce that the successful Village Outlet will take over from Westfield and all we need to do to keep them happy is rename George Street Tram Stop as the Village Idiot… sorry Outlet Tram Stop

    • derekthrower says:

      Apparently there is a shortage of school places in Croydon. Why not turn the old Whitgift Centre into a new supersized school and call it the Whitgift School? The tram stop can then be called the Whitgift Stop which is exactly what has happened for the last decade.

  2. The referendum was always going to be a close call. I have mentioned it in previous posts but surely the various developers, TfL, Croydon Council and their business plans etc factored in the possibility of Brexit. If not then they were taking a big gamble with much public money.

    • derekthrower says:

      Until Friday morning the Markets had thought Brexit was unlikely. Yes they were taken a big gamble with public money. It is called property speculation !

  3. Brexit will cause not one jot of trouble for Westfield. If anything a weaker pound will send more tourists over here to spend money in our shops.
    Croydon is doing very nicely thank you very much, however Inside Croydon just loves another excuse to bash this project, or indeed almost any other Croydon regeneration project for that matter.
    Well I am feeling very positive for the future of Croydon.

  4. Its quite simple, really. In one monumental vote of communal stupidity the UK has been turned into an international pariah, an untrustworthy and self-seeking micro-state. Our tourism will die or wither, no money will come in. Who will come to Croydon to spend money? No one at all. It was always a second class destination with ambition and attitude. David Hamilton can dream on all he wants. The future for the UK is bleak and, for Croydon, even more so.

    • How on earth have we turned in to an international pariah. For your information, most of the world is OUTSIDE of the EU. Tourists come from all over the globe. A lower value pound will only increase the amount of tourists wishing to visit our uniquely historical country.
      I think you also underestimate the pulling power of Westfield. It not only draws in the very best retailers it also draws in huge numbers of punters.
      The future of the UK now we will no longer be shackled by the chains of the failing EU has never been brighter.

  5. davidjl2014 says:

    Haven’t we had enough scaremongering over the last few months to last us a lifetime? The people have voted. That’s democracy. Whether we like the result or not, it has to be accepted. Only an idiot would attempt to disrupt a decision that has been democratically taken. So just accept it, and move on. Sadly, there are too many idiots living in this country who cannot accept defeat through the ballot box. Those people become more of a threat to our future than the EU itself.

    • derekthrower says:

      Such as those who did not accept the result of the 1975 Referendum. I suppose their sour grapes are why we are here now. In the midst of political and economic crisis.

      • davidjl2014 says:

        But the difference was that those who didn’t want to join the EU in 1975, didn’t go on and on and on, ad nauseam, about having another referendum till they got the result they wanted. They just shut up and got on with it.

        • Are you sure?

          Or did you miss the 30 years of internecine warfare within the Tory Party, John Major’s “bastards”, and the rise of UKIP?

          • davidjl2014 says:

            Ok, give me the name of one single politician who openly campaigned to reverse the 1975 decision and promoted a leave agenda between that time and 2005? It never happened, and you know it didn’t. Try spinning these yarns in “real” working class areas of this country and you’d get laughed at. The people have finally spoken, with overwhelming authority. Middle class Croydon, along with the rest of London, are just like Jeremy Corbyn, even when the majority disagree with them, they still think they are right!

          • Your ignorance of relatively recent political history is astonishing.

            We’ll do better than one politician…

            The Labour Party’s 1979 and 1983 manifestos were explicitly against European integration and favoured British withdrawal from the then EEC. The later document, under Eurosceptic Michael Foot, is remembered as “the longest suicide note in political history”. Am astonished you’d forgotten that. Tony Benn remained agin the EU from 1975 until his death.

            Alan Sked formed UKIP in 1993. That’s an entire party. They have MEPs, MPs and a leader, called Nigel Farridge. Even you may have heard of him.

            Sir Jams Goldsmith, the father of the Tories’ Mayoral candidate, Zac, had formed the Referendum Party in 1997 specifically for the purpose. They even had an MP when the Tories’ George Gardiner, MP for Reigate, defected.

            Through the 1990s, there were John Major’s Eurosceptic “bastards”, opposed to many principles of the European Union while holding positions within the Tory cabinet: Michael Howard, Peter Lilley and Michael Portillo are widely accepted to be the people Major had in mind.

            And they have supported from the back benches by various malcontents, the likes of Bill Cash, Teddy Taylor and, more recently, Peter Bone.

            So looks like you’re been talking out of your arse. Yet again.

  6. Rod Davies says:

    Whether or not the British people have made an informed decision is a moot point and will be argued over for years. However what cannot be argued against are the immediate consequences, which are catastrophic as sterling fell to a new low against the Euro and many share prices fell by 50%.
    It is now painfully evident that Messrs Johnson & Gove had no plan tucked up their sleeves ready for the day after, and the markets are bewildered by the lackadaisical attitude taken by many Brexiteers that the time can be taken over the next phase as UK decides what sort of relationship it wants with the EU. As Michael Heseltine made clear in his interview with Sky News today, businesses simply cannot wait for the Johnson, Gove & Farage trio to make up their minds, and that businesses will take away their funds if some certainty isn’t provided rapidly.
    In Croydon, Westfield is in a competitive global market for capital investment funds to put into a future Whitgift centre development. Its backers will have on offer other possibilities, and as UK Plc dithers Westfield cannot offer certainty on anything. Equally if sterling falls much more, the cost of borrowing may reach a point where it is no longer financially viable.
    As for tourism should sterling fall sufficiently it is entirely possible that prices would fall sufficiently to attract shoppers. However a corner stone of the Brexiteers claims has been that wages would rise outside of the EU, and this is the case it is likely to nullify any low value sterling bonus. As a large proportion of Croydon’s retail offer entails selling items made abroad, prices should rise as sterling falls in value. Sterlings relative weakness would deny UK retailers the opportunity to secure significant discounts from overseas suppliers.
    The longer the gap between now and the UK govt commencing negotiations with the EU, the greater likelihood that UK will slip into recession. In a recession UK consumers are unlikely to have much disposable wealth. The big retail spenders, the young and young families, are also the same groups that voted overwhelmingly to Remain, most likely because their economic interests lay in future EU membership. It is therefore reasonable to expect these groups to be more affected by any recession and if this is the case then future footfall in Croydon will be reduced.
    Brexiteers may still be claiming that outside of the EU, UK will enjoy the benefits of a strong currency, rising wages caused by the removal of cheap EU labour from the market, and control over everything. What remains unclear is how these are to be achieved.

    • derekthrower says:

      It is clear to the markets that Brexit is a protest rather than a coherent economic strategy. They clearly have not got a clue what they are doing.

      • davidjl2014 says:

        Funny isn’t it. The markets recovered today. Do you both have any shares affected by it? Most people don’t. Your opinions must therefore be based upon people who are loosing vast sums of money on the stock exchange. Believe me these millionaires can cope with it. Isn’t it better they can claim it as tax loss rather than paying it in to HMRC only for them to waste it by paying out benefits to a percentage of people fraudulently abusing it and sticking two fingers up at us all?

        • derekthrower says:

          So massive international companies who receive their income in foreign currencies have recovered. Nice to see our Kipper getting behind these international companies and those who have massive trading operations in the EU. I just can’t believe this gentleman cannot be in a pension fund whose earnings are primarily based on FTSE investments beyond those of the FTSE 100. So are we going to receive this message of hope everyday the markets rise and complete silence when they crash.

        • It was a dead cat bounce.

          Look at the FTSE 250, which is based on the stock prices of the next tier of businesses and includes many more British-based businesses, and the picture is far gloomier.

          Globally, $3 trillion has been wiped off the value of stocks and shares since the Brexit vote. In a week.

          And the casino economics of the markets affects the lives of anyone who has a pension fund, whether private or through their company. Pensions which are all worth much less today than they were before the Referendum.

          But don’t worry, David. We get the picture. You just don’t care.

  7. derekthrower says:

    During a window of economic growth and political certainty Westfield failed to commence development. So some of the reasoning being displayed here suggests that during a period of economic recession and political uncertainty they will all of a sudden decide to commence development. The level of reasoning skills displayed by our Brexiters here.

  8. davidjl2014 says:

    Time now to read what John Major said in a speech dated 1st March 1995, and I quote:
    “The often unspoken fear of many people – we should address it honestly and clearly and examine it – is that Europe might develop into a super-state, an overarching Government with no national veto, no control over our boarders, prescriptive decisions, a single currency imposed and the nation state retreating to a wholly subordinate role. That fear exists out there….and we should recognise the fact that it exists. I for one would find such a Europe wholly unacceptable for this country. I do not believe that it is remotely likely, but, if that were to be the future, it would not be a future that would be suitable for this country”
    I suppose that’s why John Major campaigned alongside David Cameron to stay in the EU.

  9. derekthrower says:

    One minor problem. What the hell has that got to do with Westfield and the Whitgift Centre?

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