BARRATT HOLMES, our housing correspondent, on the continuing and protracted wait for multi-billion-pound developers to submit their finalised plans for the town centre
A planning committee meeting scheduled for the Town Hall for tonight specifically to review the revised plans for the £1.4billion redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre and Centrale has been scrapped by Croydon Council, without any explanation given to some of the elected councillors who form the committee.
And next week’s planning committee meeting, on June 22, has no sign of the application from Westfield and Hammerson – better known as Hammersfield – for their 1,000 poky flats (“luxury executive apartments”) in five tall tower blocks, which potentially will offer a bird’s eye view of any future gang assassinations and shootings on the Wellesley Road.
Croydon town centre has been enduring planning blight for five years since the Whitgift Foundation, ably assisted by the then MP, Gavin Barwell, brought Westfield to Croydon in 2012, creating an “shotgun wedding” with rival shopping centre developers Hammerson, the owners of Centrale and who had been appointed for the redevelopment by existing leaseholders.
Westfield and Hammerson came together to form Croydon Partners for the purposes of the scheme, and although they obtained planning permission for one version of the project in 2014 and have since seen much of the area acquired through a Compulsory Purchase Order, there’s been next to no progress for almost two years.
A revised scheme, with additional residential elements, was revealed in early 2016. Since when… zilch.
When first announced five years ago, the developers confidently predicted that Croydon would have a wonderful new temple to retail open for business in 2017. Now, the earliest Hammersfield might all be finished is late 2021 – and that’s if they get planning permission this year and start work promptly in 2018.
Tonight’s planning meeting was understood to have been called specifically for the purpose of considering Westfield plans. It was removed from the council planning website last week without explanation. It is at least the third planning meeting in the last six months at which committee members had been primed to expect the revised plans for the scheme, only for nothing to materialise.
“It’s always the risk when you deal with Westfield. It’s how they operate,” one senior figure in property development familiar with the Croydon scheme told Inside Croydon.
“They won’t push through anything if the market conditions are not right for the maximum profit for them. And if they choose to, they’ll walk away altogether, just like they did to Bradford.”
Inside Croydon approached Croydon Partners for an explanation for the further delay in the scheme seeking planning permission. None was coming.
We also contacted Croydon Council’s £185,000 per year chief executive, the Australian-born Jo Negrini, who has lengthy experience of working closely with the Australian-based Westfield from her time at Newham Council.
But Negrini has not responded to our enquiries.
Rather than actually doing the job for which she is paid so handsomely, Negrini’s too busy pimping out slices of Croydon to other multi-national billionaires at something called the London Real Estate Forum being staged in Berkeley Square this week.
There have been suggestions that part of the delay in the re-submission of the Hammersfield plans (no one seriously expects the committee of pliant councillors to reject the scheme, however overblown or unsuitable it might be) is that the planning department in Fisher’s Folly, which has been badly under-staffed since Negrini was in charge of it, has been struggling to cope with the massive workload and huge complexity of the proposals.
At this week’s Grosvenor Square event, Negrini is to be accompanied by her tame art gallery owner, Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison, who she wheels out whenever she wants to persuade developers that she has firm intentions to “artwash” the borough, gentrifying it to suit property owners. Zuchowski-Morrison was responsible for spending thousands of pounds of public money on the controversial Soldier Boy sculpture in Surrey Street which was unveiled last week, just days after the terrorist attack on Borough Market.
“This session will provide an update on planning and development activity in the London Borough of Croydon,” the London Real Estate Forum’s website says of a session for property speculators tomorrow entitled “Opportunity London”, where Negrini is the star turn.
Let’s hope she’s able to tell the billionaire property developers what’s going on with the Westfield development, even though she’s been leaving in the dark elected councillors, the struggling businesses trying to trade in the left-to-rot Whitgift Centre, and the residents of Croydon who pay her wages.
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