£1.4bn Westfield plans set for council showdown next month

Revised plans for the £1.4 billion Westfield and Hammerson redevelopment of Croydon town centre seem likely to go before a showdown meeting of the council’s planning committee next month, and without any major adjustments to the much-altered scheme which was criticised by councillors earlier this year.

The artists' impressions of the new Westfield for Croydon have hardly changed in more than two years. The plans have been altered, though

The artist’s impressions of the new Westfield for Croydon are unchanged in more than two years. The plans have been significantly altered, though

The Croydon Partnership is the name given to the shotgun marriage of the developers for the project which is to demolish and rebuild the decrepit Whitgift Centre and the unloved Centrale shopping mall. They have already got planning permission for one scheme, for which the local council conducted a lengthy and very costly Compulsory Purchase Order on more than 150 different properties in 2015.

But earlier this year, the developers came back with bigger, taller, and greedier, proposals for more residential tower blocks. As we reported at the time, hard details of the changed scheme were thin on the ground, but what was put before councillors at a pre-application meeting was not received warmly.

You can see the Croydon Partnership’s latest version of their scheme in pdf format here.

They have not managed to get the Hammersfield project on to the agenda for next week’s planning committee meeting (that will be discussing other revised plans, for the Taberner House site and Queen’s Gardens). So the earliest that the revised application might be considered at planning now is November 3.

According to a spokesman for The Croydon Partnership today, their timetable for the scheme remains with demolition work to begin in 2017 and a completion date of “2020/2021”. So they are clearly expecting the council planning committee to wave through anything that they want.

In a trading report to The City earlier this year, Hammerson openly conceded that the new supermall will not be open for business until 2021 – nearly a decade since the scheme was first put forward by the landowners, the Whitgift Foundation and the local Tory MP, Gavin Barwell.

Who could Whitgift Foundation member Barwell have had in mind when he said people had been "working behind the scenes"?

Who could former Whitgift Foundation member Barwell have had in mind when he said people had been “working behind the scenes” in 2012?

Barwell, a long-time member of the Whitgift Foundation’s board is, of course, now a government minister for housing, planning and London.

With such a powerful backer at Westminster, the developers may be emboldened, and determined to push their revised scheme forward, defying the part-time local councillors on the Labour-run Town Hall planning committee.

When asked if there were any changes to the scheme to reflect the council’s reservations about the very tall towers close to Croydon’s heritage buildings, such as the Whitgift Almhouses and St Michael’s church, the spokesman indicated that there were not.

“It’s basically what was put forward in the public consultation earlier this year,” the spokesman said. Yes, that’s right: the public consultation which had few hard details, lacked an anchor tenant (Croydon’s been waiting for John Lewis longer than Godot) and a revised scheme which the council planning committee found unacceptable in key aspects.

In a statement from the Croydon Partnership today, they said: “We are preparing to submit an enhanced outline planning application to the Council for our upgraded plans for the £1.4billion regeneration of the Whitgift shopping centre.

“While the majority of the approved masterplan principles remain the same, there are a small number of positive updates which are improving the overall scheme and require a new outline application. These changes were presented at the extensive public consultation with the local community, and we look forward to sharing further details of the enhanced application when it is submitted.”

By “a small number of positive updates”, they might be referring to the 1,000 extra new homes, stacked in tall towers above one of the largest indoor car parks in the country. But who knows for certain? The Croydon Partnership is not saying just yet.

“You’d expect them to genuflect in some way to the planning committee’s concerns,” one insider involved in Croydon’s multi-billion-pound regeneration, told Inside Croydon. “But they know what the sorry state of the Whitgift Centre is today, they know what the threat of development blight can be for the town centre.

“Westfield have walked away from developments before. That implicit threat will be there. It’s Westfield’s style.”

The planning notice placed in local newspapers - and therefore hardly likely to be seen by many, and noticed by even fewer - this week

The planning notice placed in local newspapers – and therefore hardly likely to be seen by many, and noticed by even fewer – this week

The Croydon Partnership has this week placed ads in the local press, as they are required to do in order to formally declare their application.

Now we must wait and see whether Councillor Paul Scott, the architect and husband of Alison Butler, the cabinet member who is responsible for delivering the borough’s regeneration, and the council chief executive, Australian-born “regeneration practitioner” Jo Negrini, are capable of standing up to Westfield and their partners on behalf of the broader, long-term interests of Croydon.

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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12 Responses to £1.4bn Westfield plans set for council showdown next month

  1. Nick Davies says:

    John Lewis are doing nowhere near as well out of their bricks and mortar stores as they were five years ago as people move on-line. I would say that the chances of them coming to cheer up the Glee Club are now very close to zero. The new full service store in the pipeline in Brighton along with the other homeware outlets they’ve opened in Kent and Sussex since Hammersfield was first postulated fulfil their requirements.

  2. derekthrower says:

    This will be an interesting meeting. Which side will call each others bluff. One piece of evidence is the Chinese Banking sector is not in rude health and will they consider such a major investment adding to the quality of their debt or providing too much risk during the great uncertainty caused by Brexit. Also we have a new player in the background who has been silent over this matter. Will the Mayor of London consider this an opportunity to push for major social housing investment to meet his aspirations for increasing the number of affordable homes. All very interesting.

  3. I suspect that the Croydon Partnership will end up getting approval for whatever they want as Negrini et al are so desperate for some sign of regeneration that has been sadly lacking for numerous years. If and when something finally starts (who knows when it will actually finish) it will be handy as it will distract attention from the so called regeneration efforts of the council that have so far delivered …………. zilch (unless you included the poorly built, overpriced, and overcrowded Fishers Folly)

  4. These really are exciting proposals for Croydon. The bigger the development means the more of the tired old Croydon can be wiped off the map.
    Yes it will take time and yes it will cause a lot of disruption, but you cant make omelettes without breaking a few eggs.
    Well done to the visionaries who are taking this forward.

  5. derekthrower says:

    I agree. Seen some tawdry development in Mint Walk that looks like it should torn down and started again. Just a personal opinion of course.

  6. Nick Davies says:

    I fail to see how anyone can be excited by replacing a depressing clone town shopping precinct with another depressing clone town shopping precinct. A big box with all the same shops in it and a car park on top. Or underneath to add a bit of variety. To me they’re hell on earth only to be used for distress purchases.

    An alternative would be to return to a traditional street pattern lined with five or six story buildings grouped around courtyards. Retail and leisure at street level, offices and a lot of residential on the higher floors. If the residential density is high enough you achieve a nice mix of pubs, restaurants and small shops and thus a vibrant street life. That’s why all those continental cities that we visit are so enjoyable.

    The alternative is a sterile temple to big retail during the day which becomes a huge black hole of a no-go area at 6pm, populated by a few security guards trying to scare the rough sleepers away. Is that what we really want?

    • I like this approach particularly as, in due course, it is much easy to update, modernise etc rather than the difficulties that are inherent in addressing developments such as the Whitgift. Shrewsbury is a good example of the popularity of this type of centre rather than Malls which seem to struggle there.

  7. Lewis White says:

    Inside Croydon readers have made some good points here — the cycle of build– maintain–decline–demolish-rebuild for developments like these is areal factor.

    The US is littered with shopping malls that have passed their sell-by-dates. The difference is that they just build a new one a bit further out –it become s trendy, for a decade, then another one is built further out. The results are urban decline and an onion -ring city, where the inner rings go bad.

  8. veeanne2015 says:

    Up to 400 additional homes in the new plan ?
    Westfield will need these extra residents to replace those shoppers currently coming by bus or car, who will go elsewhere to shop rather than being trapped in traffic jams caused by Wellesley Road being re-designed for Westfield, ignoring the gridlock impact this will have on all other vehicles needing the other skyscraper flats, restaurants, and other destinations in the centre, and made even worse by plans for cars from the north additionally stopping the traffic to cross Wellesley Road to go into the Car Park.

    As for ‘enhancing the view of St. Michael’s Church’, building another skyscraper on the Green Park House site, adding to those planned for Poplar Walk, Station Road, and no doubt Lunar House in the future, as well as Saffron House, will hardly do that – and Poplar Walk will still be needed for buses, deliveries to the afore-mentioned buildings, and the church.
    But are Westfield bothered about that ?

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