Barwell tries to pass the buck for Westfield’s decade-long delay

WALTER CRONXITE on a MP’s Christmas message which overlooks his own role in the town centre blight that he has inflicted on Croydon

The next council elections are less than 18 months away.

Tomorrow belongs to me? Gaffe-pronne Gav appears to have forgotten his own role in bringing Westfield to Croydon

Tomorrow belongs to me: Gavin Barwell has ‘forgotten’ his role in bringing Westfield to Croydon

How can you tell?

Because Gavin Barwell, the MP for the Whitgift Foundation, has started to play the blame game over the dire development blight in the town centre which has been caused by his stalled pet project, the £1.4billion redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre by Westfield, his hand-picked developers.

The Whitgift Centre is owned by the Whitgift Foundation, who run three private schools (where annual fees can now cost as much as £35,500). Barwell was educated at one of the Foundation’s schools. He has been chair of governors of his old school and sat on the governing board of the Foundation. In 2012, when the redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre was first aired and Barwell was an eager new backbencher at Westminster, he did his attention-seeking best to claim credit for the deal which brought Westfield to Croydon for a scheme which was due to be completed by … 2017.

Now that’s clearly not going to happen.

Indeed, with demolition work unlikely to begin before 2018 and completion possibly not until 2022 (according to Westfield themselves) – a full decade since the scheme was proposed and five years behind schedule – Barwell’s been doing a bit of scapegoating, in the hope that half-truths and deceits might offer a bit of local political advantage.

In his own Christmas message to consituents last week, Barwell insinuated that the cause for the delays lay with the (Labour-controlled) Town Hall.

“2016 has been a frustrating year when it comes to the regeneration of the town centre,” Barwell wrote. “We’ve seen the Fairfield Halls closed and boarded up for months without any visible work being done to refurbish it and there’s been little progress with the redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre, St George’s Walk or Taberner House.  We need a greater sense of urgency at the Town Hall.”

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

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

This from the Conservative Government’s minister for planning, no less.

Is Barwell really having a pop at Westfield’s favourite “regeneration practitioner”, Jo Negrini, the council CEO, over the stalled Whitgift Centre?

Of course, entirely unmentioned in Barwell’s Christmas message is that Westfield had planning permission in 2015, following an exhaustive CPO process to buy-up the shopping centre property, all conducted to the developers’ specifications, and done at vast public expense.

Barwell knows all this only too well. But he has a track record for shameless attempts to score cheap political points, rather than actually deliver for the people of Croydon. Otherwise, Barwell will have long ago been critical of Westfield for the glacial progress over the Whitgift, caused entirely by developers’ insistence on ripping up their original, approved plans from 2014 and coming back with taller residential towers containing nearly double the number of highly profitable “executive apartments”.

None of this is about the betterment of Croydon. It is all about the bottom line for the developers and the land owners.

Under any scheme, Barwell’s old school chums at the Whitgift Foundation will get their share of the lucre. So the planning and housing minister’s role in any appeals or review process on this one will need to be watched most carefully.

Now, demolition work on the 1960s shopping centre now seems unlikely to start before 2018.

Barwell's new boss: Sajid Javid

In favour of building on Green Belt: Barwell’s boss, Sajid Javid

There is no honest way in which Barwell can fairly ascribe this delay to the Town Hall. But as we say, there’s elections coming up, so expect to see much more of this opportunistic bullshit from Barwell and his MP’s office staff – including councillors Jason Cummings and Sara Bashford – in the next few months.

Perhaps even more insidious was the veiled threat from Minister Barwell to Croydon’s elected Labour council.

Elsewhere in his message, Barwell draws attention to arguments “… over the draft Croydon Plan, which sets out what can be built where for the next 20 or so years, continue.” That’ll be the Croydon Plan which was originally drafted in 2013, under a Tory administration at the Town Hall, and has been largely inherited by the current lot.

Barwell said, “The Council refuses to listen to residents in New Addington, Shirley and elsewhere who oppose development in the Green Belt and on Metropolitan Open Land.  We can only hope that the independent inspector who will now consider the Council’s proposals will be more sympathetic.”

“More sympathetic?” As the planning minister, you might expect Barwell to understand that this is not a matter of emotional rhetoric, but of planning law: to ensure what is proposed is fair and legal, in order to achieve the house-building targets which have been set by … the housing minister.

What we do know is that it is Barwell’s boss at the DCLG, the Department for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, who has been energetically pushing for more building on Green Belt land. Does Barwell run his PollyAnna-ish parochial messages past the DCLG press office before committing himself to opposing his own department’s policies? Or does his hypocrisy and lies only run to wards where he believes the Tories might pick up a couple of council seats in 2018?

But consider this: Any independent inspector will be appointed by the Planning Inspectorate, which is part of DCLG, where as we all know the junior minister responsible for planning is … Gavin Barwell, and the minister responsible for London is … Gavin Barwell, and the minister in charge of delivery thousands of new homes is … Gavin Barwell.

Let’s hope that any new plans for the Whitgift Centre manage to be properly and independently assessed by someone at DCLG, who has never been a part of the court of governors of the Whitgift Foundation, nor attended one of their schools nor spent the past five years as a cheerleader for the Westfield’s presence in Croydon.

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13 Responses to Barwell tries to pass the buck for Westfield’s decade-long delay

  1. I think that Westfield and all such developers will be watching the Christmas trading figures very closely. I suspect that there will be further significant shifts towards purchasing via the internet which will make retail malls less viable. In my town, where another mall with flats and cinema is proposed, there is a similar delay to Westfield and many are wondering if it will ever happen.

  2. I must have a new app on my iPad allowing the wireless transmission of odours, because I can smell the bullshit from here.

  3. Nick Davies says:

    Twelve months ago Inside Croydon reported ( that bugger all had seemed to have happened for ages due in part to the assumed reluctance of the Glee Club’s beloved John Lewis to sign up.

    Bugger all continues to happen. Does anyone know what the JL situation now is? With changing retail habits the odds against them coming to central Croydon must by now be very long indeed.

    • No change there. Westfield have stuck all their eggs in the Marks and Spencer basket-case, just before M&S announced that they weren’t going to be doing the Big Store thing any longer.

  4. arnorab says:

    John Lewis have always been the best predictors of retail trends. If they are not doing the big store thing any more then its clear that big stores, the mainstay of the megamalls like Hammerfield, have had their day….as I predicted many moons ago. Hammersfield is really dead in the water: the whole retail field has changed completely and by the time it opens- which clearly will be 2022 at the earliest, if it ever does, most significant shopping will be done on line or in smaller shops that offer easy access and free parking. Add to that the knock on effect of Brexit, which will be toiling its way through for many years to come yet, and the overwarmed property market which is due for an implosion and you have the scenario for a dreadful failure, a potential ghost city of oversupplied flats and multiple bankruptcies. Happy New Year….and of course, according to the Master Of Ineptitude, Mr Barwell, its all the present administration’s fault. Bah, humbug!

  5. I think the fact that Westfield are proposing an extra floor for shopping, rather flies in the face of the pessimism on here.
    Of course they need to make this whole development work financially. Id say building more homes is both a good way to make more money and to create maximum footfall when the new centre opens.
    I think all of us are disappointed at the speed of this, but the is still very little doubt that once built it will be a huge boost to Croydon.
    I also agree with Mr Barwell about the lack of progress with St Georges Walk. What an eyesore the place is. Id much rather that this was rebuilt at the same time as Whitgift. Croydon Council (no matter what colour) have a huge opportunity and responsibility to make some decisions as soon as possible that will forever be for the greater good of Croydon. They must make these decisions without delay.

    • To an extent, I actually agree with David Hamilton on the need for Something To Be Done with St George’s Walk, the Nestle building and the SEGAS buildings, all of which occupy important town centre locations and have needed redevelopment for many years.

      But as Hamilton, and Barwell, for that matter, ought to know is that the local authority has very few powers (and even less capital) to co-erce land-owners, property speculators and land-bankers into making good use of their property for the broader interests of the community.

      Or is Hamilton, and Barwell, lobbying for a mega-million CPO by Croydon Council?

  6. mraemiller says:

    “there’s been little progress with the redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre, St George’s Walk or Taberner House.”

    George’s Walk has a new roof.

  7. Figures reported by the Mail today showed 50% fall in footfall in Malls in one year for New Years Day. Internet sales up 6.8% NYDay and 6.2% NYEve. Overall retail footfall includng High Streets fell 23.8%. If actual sales reflect footfall, as one would expect them to do, then Westfield and others will be thinking very carefully about how they proceed.

  8. arnorab says:

    As the wise Ernie Wise would have said: “Its like what I said”. The whole retail field is changing both rapidly and permanently. By the time Westfield throws up its version of Trump Towers it will be totally out of date. There are now almost as many failed Malls in the USA as there are ones extant. No need to hammer (sorry) home the lesson.

    Whatever happens to that grandiose project, too much attention is being paid to just one possible saviour for the town’s commerce. St George’s and its environs will almost certainly be left to become totally derelict. Had there been any will to do anything about it, by either party, then something would have happened already. The present shameful state of the area tells its own story. No need to hammer (sorry) home the lesson.

    I wish I could share David Hamilton’s optimism about the value to the town of the insensate, headstrong, headlong building of more and more flats. He would do well to visit the part of the Costa Blanca where we once had a house (sensibly sold just before the collapse). The whole area is full of derelict finished and unfinished properties built in a fever of optimism created by the certain knowledge hat the Spanish housing bubble would endure forever. It didn’t, and it won’t in Croydon.

  9. In the US having so much space for development in many states it is possible for malls to develop and then decline to be replaced by newly built malls.

    • That is possible, but if you research the US situation, Mall decline is more about changing patterns of shopping and decline of the Department Anchor stores that are not cost effective.

      Maybe that is why Westfield are having trouble securing an anchor store other than a rebuilt M&S?

    • arnorab says:

      …..which then, in turn, decline and are usually but not always replaced…..a message there, somewhere!

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