In an embarrassing snub for the council’s chief executive, the developers proposing the £1.4billion Westfield and Hammerson regeneration of Croydon town centre have no immediate intention to submit their plans for review by the borough’s much-touted Place Review Panel.
The Place Review Panel is the initiative of Jo Negrini, the council CEO, and honorary fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. With groups of experts drawn from 22 hand-picked architects and designers, the Place Review Panel is supposed to meet once a month to cast its “independent” eye over various planning applications. It is estimated that the panel could cost the Council Tax-payers of Croydon around £100,000 per year.
Alison Butler, part of the Gang of Four which controls the Labour group at the Town Hall, greeted the appointment of the experts by claiming that “their valuable knowledge will be instrumental in furthering Croydon’s commitment to achieve the highest quality architecture across the borough”. Butler clearly was not anticipating such a snub from Westfield.
Last year, the council was speaking grandly about the Place Review Panel providing “independent advice to elevate the quality of new developments across the borough,” and “actively working with developers at the earliest possible stage“. Those are our italics.
In the case of Westfield, with its 2million sq ft of retail space and 1,000 “luxury executive apartments”, it looks like the Panel won’t get to work with the developers at any stage.
Back in November, the council said, “Future planning applications for large-scale developments in Croydon will benefit from the guidance of a multi-disciplinary panel of industry experts.”
The £1.4billion “Hammersfield” scheme, including a vast supermall built for Westfield, is claimed to be the largest of its kind in London.
More recently, the council has gone very quiet about its Place Review Panel, refusing to reveal when it has met or admit which schemes have been reviewed so far. Panel members have been instructed not to talk to the press about their work.
And now, Inside Croydon has discovered that the Croydon Partnership, the venture formed by Westfield and Hammerson five years ago to work together on the redevelopment of the town centre’s shopping district, will not be submitting their revised plans for expert scrutiny by the Place Review Panel.
This represents an embarrassing knock-back for Negrini and her Place Review Panel, since the redevelopment of the town centre is the biggest single scheme of its kind in the borough for a generation or more.
According to a spokesperson for the Croydon Partnership, their revised plans for a vast tract of land either side of North End will be going before the council to seek formal planning permission some time in the next month.
That planning committee decision is regarded as a foregone conclusion, since the council dare not do anything to jeopardise the long-delayed project getting underway, with work unlikely to begin before Easter 2018, according to agents for the Whitgift Foundation, the all-powerful owners of the freehold.
And meanwhile, the Place Review Panel will be bypassed and be rendered an irrelevance.
Croydon’s Place Review Panel is not a mandatory body and has no legal status in the planning process. It is only called in to look at schemes at the invitation of developers, who pay a fee for the privilege.
“You have to ask what’s the point of the panel if they are not able to consider the biggest scheme in Croydon for nearly 60 years?” a Katharine Street source said today.
If they ever seek the opinions of the Place Review Panel, the Croydon Partnership spokesperson said it would only happen “at the reserved matters stage”.
“That’s like inviting an architect into your newly built house and asking whether they like your wallpaper,” another councillor said.
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