BARRATT HOLMES, our housing correspondent, names the date. At last
The much-delayed application for permission to build a £1.4billion supermall where the Whitgift Centre and Centrale now stand will go before the council’s planning committee at the Town Hall in a fortnight’s time.
A note was circulated to all councillors last night to advise of additional planning committee meetings on May 24 and June 14. There’s also planning meetings tonight and next Thursday. The Whitgift Centre proposals will be considered on May 24, though the council has yet to publish any papers related to that meeting.
Council CEO Jo Negrini’s relentless march towards overdevelopment across the whole of the borough is not pausing for breath during the General Election campaign.
While the chief exec has shut down much of the rest of the council’s functions, even cancelling a cabinet meeting, it’s Carry On Building as far as Negrini’s concerned, regardless of the official purdah period when the council is supposed to suspend any activity which might be deemed to be “political” and so potentially prejudice the council’s supposedly neutral position in the election process.
Yet the application from Westfield and Hammerson – aka Hammersfield, or The Croydon Partnership – could not be more political, in the broadest sense.
The vast redevelopment of the whole of the town centre is the biggest scheme to be undertaken in Croydon for half a century. But don’t expect any outcome other than nodding acceptance of the proposals, any proposals, in two weeks’ time, when lip-service to public interest will be served by the elected councillors of both parties on the planning committee.
Given the minority Tories’ unhealthily close relationship with the landowners, the Whitgift Foundation, there might even be an unanimous vote in favour of the proposals.
Both sides of Croydon’s political duopoly at the Town Hall are gagging for the property developers’ intervention, so much so that the broader interests of the borough’s residents, other businesses and what remains of its heritage may yet be bulldozed to ease the way for Westfield and Hammerson to maximise their multi-million-pound profits.
The developers have already opted to ignore Negrini’s pet project, the Place Review Panel, probably to avoid any nasty criticism of their money-grubbing proposals from the design and architecture experts on the panel.
Planning permission has already been granted once for the scheme to rebuild the down-at-heel 1960s-built Whitgift Centre and link it in with Centrale on the other side of North End. Croydon Council has even embarked on a costly Compulsory Purchase Order of large swathes of the town centre to facilitate the needs of the developers.
Until the council publishes the meeting agenda for May 24 – which comes two days after the council’s annual meeting, meaning that there may be an entirely new line-up of councillors on the planning committee – it cannot be known for certain what the detail of the plans are for the development, though the Croydon Partnership has stated that the revised plans which they released a year ago are likely to be unaffected by the tokenistic “public consultation” which they ran at that time.
That means a near-doubling of the number of flats – “luxury executive apartments” – to 1,000 to be included in the scheme, which will be the largest Westfield shopping mall in London.
The revised application is coming before the council almost six months later than anticipated, for a project which, when first proposed by Tory MP and long-time Whitgift Foundation governor Gavin Barwell, was supposed to be completed in… 2017.
When planning permission is granted by our pliant council, as it surely will be, it means that the earliest that demolition work can commence will be some time in 2018. Construction work will then last for at least four years.
By 2022, the economic outlook and the shape of the retailing business are likely to be utterly different from 2012, when the scheme was first suggested. So far, the best retail offer that Westfield has been able to announce for its flash new supermall is a big Marks and Sparks.
And after a decade-long development blight, we’ll all be so grateful for that, won’t we?
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