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