M.T. WALLETTE, our shop-till-she-drops retailing correspondent, on the latest nail in the coffin of the town centre mall
The development blight suffered in the town centre over the last five years since Gavin Barwell and Boris Johnson brought Westfield to Croydon continues and if anything is accelerating, with Clas Ohlson the latest big shop to announce it is quitting the Whitgift Centre.
The announcement came in the company’s annual report this week.
It is part of a £6.4million cost-cutting exercise which, the Swedish company says, is a consequence of poor trading conditions in 2016 and the rise of internet shopping – two trends which will do nothing to inspire confidence that Hammerson or Westfield, the “partners” on a £1.4billion regeneration project, will be in any rush to bring forward their plans for Croydon.
With most lease-holders in the Whitgift Centre having been given short-term extensions through to the end of the 2017 Christmas sales season, in anticipation of Hammersfield beginning demolition work on the site in 2018, it seems likely that the timing of Clas Ohlson’s closure has been made for them.
Known by its most loyal customers as “the incredibly useful Svedish store”, the Croydon branch was Clas Ohlson’s first in Britain when it opened in 2008. The 20,000sq ft site fronts North End, and represents one of the last “destination stores” still to be based in the Whitgift centre. Croydon will be the seventh Clas Ohlson store closure in Britain as part of a “restructuring”.
The company’s annual report states as reasons for the changes as the British economy which “slowed somewhat during 2016”, negative consumer confidence and the continuing growth of online shopping.
Meanwhile, there has been no news of when Westfield and Hammerson, in their joint guise as The Croydon Partnership, will bring forward revised plans for the redevelopment – which is now at least six months later in going before the council’s planning committee than had been expected.
Such delays raise the spectre that the early 2018 date for demolition of the ageing Whitgift Centre may be missed.
When Barwell, now an ex-MP, and his Tory chum Johnson revealed the Croydon Partnership five years ago, they announced that the new supermall would be open for business by 2017.
Neither the Croydon Partnership nor the Whitgift Foundation, the land-owners of the shopping centre, would comment on the delays.
Sources within the borough’s biggest property owners suggest growing concerns among its governors over the situation with the redevelopment, or lack of it.
With most of the office space in the Whitgift Centre effectively vacated in the past five years and the shopping centre emptying by the day – of shoppers as well as stores – the Foundation may not be making as much from its commercial property portfolio as it might hope.
According to its latest accounts, the Whitgift Foundation had income of £58.8million in 2016.
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