BARRATT HOLMES, our housing correspondent, on the glacially slow progress being made over the Hammersfield project, which is beginning to appear ‘like a residential development with a shopping centre tacked on’
Revised plans for the £1.4billion redevelopment of a large swathe of central Croydon’s shopping area are expected to go before the council planning committee “in the next month or so”, when they could propose up to twice the volume of housing originally put forward by developers Westfield and Hammerson.
Reports from Australia, where Westfield are based, have suggested that in the face of a global shift towards online shopping, and set against a continuing rise in residential property values in London, their scheme to redevelop Croydon could now include as many as 1,200 flats – or “luxury executive apartments” as they are sure to be described.
“With each passing month, it’s looking like the Westfield development is more of a residential development with a shopping centre tacked on than anything else,” a Town Hall source said.
It is five years since rival developers Westfield and Hammerson were brought together by Tory politicians Boris Johnson and Gavin Barwell in a shot-gun marriage of convenience over their conflicting plans for the Whitgift Centre and Centrale, sited on opposite sides of North End.
Then, under the banner of the Croydon Partnership, the Hammersfield scheme was to include 2million sq ft of new shop space, 600 homes and “destination” leisure facilities.
But it was also announced that it was all due to be completed by 2017. Now, the earliest that demolition work can commence is 2018.
It is two years since the planning inspector’s public inquiry and the Compulsory Purchase Order.
And it is more than a year since Westfield put the handbrake on the whole project and announced that they wanted to redesign the scheme to include an additional 400 flats – potentially worth an extra £100million to the developers.
Through all this lengthy process, the centre of Croydon has been subjected to development blight, while behind the scenes all has been far from sweetness and light between Hammerson and Westfield. It has been suggested that aspects of the firms’ commercial rivalry may have prolonged delays.
Both developers have had other calls on their funds for development, Westfield at Shepherd’s Bush, where it is spending £600million on an expansion due to open next year, and Hammerson at Brent Cross and in the City of London.
And last month, Westfield bought a 3 per cent stake in Hammerson – around £135million-worth of shares – amid talk of “leverage”, which usually means a way of applying pressure on a company.
Quoting Peter Lowy, Westfield’s co-chief executive, from an investors meeting to receive the annual report, The Australian newspaper reported that the company would be seeking additional partners for the flats in Croydon, and that “it plans to start next year developing 1,200 apartments”.
This was denied today by a spokesman for the Croydon Partnership, who told Inside Croydon, “We have been clear that we are applying for up to 1,000 units.”
They confirmed that the revised application would, finally, be considered by the council’s planning committee “we hope it will be in the next month or so”, and said that the flats in the revised plans “will be located in four or five residential towers fronting Wellesley Road”.
The spokesman suggested that the revised scheme, which was outlined a year ago and drew some concerns about the height of some of the towers and their proximity to heritage buildings such as the Whitgift Almhouses and St Michael’s Church, had not been significantly altered as a consequence of the consultation process. “The main changes are detailed in the release we put out last year when we put the new application in,” he said.
“We said at the time we submitted the new application that we expected that it would be put forward in the early part of 2017. This is a large and complex scheme in the middle of a town centre that is undergoing significant amounts of investment and development and these factors are important when determining the timetable,” he said.
That timetable, according to the Croydon Partnership, won’t see the works completed until the end of 2021, at the earliest.
The spokesman was unable to say whether they had secured any other major retailers for their “prestigious” new shopping centre, beyond a “flagship store” for Marks and Spencer, announced last year. “Discussions with a wide range of major retailers are progressing well and we are pleased with the levels of interest we continue to receive,” he said.
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