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.
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.”
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.
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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