Brexit uncertainties that could make Westfield a retail dinosaur

CROYDON COMMENTARY: The on-going delays, and John Lewis’s annual report, do not inspire DAVID WICKENS with confidence over Westfield’s £1.4billion town centre scheme

One of Westfield’s imagined views of how the new mall might look, if it is ever built

“Our time is now” is a council slogan linked to regeneration. It has not exactly started on the “B of Bang”.

The ill-fated Minerva Park Place proposal – for the long-neglected St George’s Walk – was said to have been negotiating with John Lewis but it came to nothing. John Lewis have recently pulled out of a proposal for a new store in Brighton. There is a very nice one in Horsham though.

Given the economic uncertainty, issues for Croydon such as crime and reputation, difficulty with access, little sign of improved infrastructure (road or tram), issues around high rise developments and so forth, is it any wonder that Westfield is stalled?

Just why would John Lewis come to central Croydon?

There is already a House of Fraser, Debenhams and proposal for a new Marks and Spencer. One might joke about “Click and Collect”, but it, combined with online shopping and delivery for larger items, makes anchor stores high-risk retail dinosaurs. Allders struggled to compete, and at one time that was a relatively high-end store.

If one reads the press around John Lewis 2016 results, it talks about 40 per cent of their Christmas sales being online (and that can only increase), pressures on costs due to post-Brexit exchange rates, cuts in staff and also bonuses to 1950s percentage levels. This is hardly an indication that they are looking to expand unless they intend to “speculate to accumulate”.

2017’s figures for retail sales provide a concerning backdrop for Westfield and Hammerson, who might finally deliver Croydon’s £1.4bn supermall a decade after they first suggested it

In terms of infrastructure, TfL are consulting again on Fiveways but will they commit money to construct this and the tram loop if there remains doubts around Westfield? I think not, and it is a bit chicken and egg.

I really don’t see Westfield giving the green light, if at all, until we see the result of the Brexit negotiations. We should know something within 18 months-ish; so, from their point of view, why not wait a bit longer?

Were John Lewis to strike a rent-free deal then good luck to them but what happens when the deal expires? I suspect potential tenants will be very reluctant to sign up without clarity on access, anchor stores etc. The much smaller proposals in my town are also stalled, possibly because they cannot pre-let other than to a few second-rate shops and fast food restaurants.

Something needs to happen, but Westfield must be approaching the point where they must either progress or abandon the current ideas in favour of something achievable.

  • David Wickens is a former senior official working at Croydon Council. As with all Croydon Commentary columns published on this site, this piece is written in a personal capacity

  • Inside Croydon is Croydon’s only independent news source, still based in the heart of the borough. From April to June 2017, we averaged 32,000 page views every week
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3 Responses to Brexit uncertainties that could make Westfield a retail dinosaur

  1. Nick Davies says:

    By coincidence this piece appears in today’s Observer. Where America leads Croydon will surely follow.

  2. dave1152 says:

    Big companies need to be attracted to Croydon. Rent free. If the businesses are there, then the employees will spend money. No Business =no employees = no money.

    This is not rocket science – but obviously beyond our council who just want to build more and more high rise rubbish and destroy what little beauty there is in the town (Queens Gardens) . Westfield won’t happen it in its current guise, that boat has sailed. However, attract the big boys and the little outlets will follow. Leave as is and the pound and fast food outlets will flourish. As will the bored gangs.

  3. Lewis White says:

    I think Dave1152 has got it right. I recall many years ago when I was on an Estate Management and Building Surveying college course, one of the lecturers (who specialised in Valuation of commercial properties), said that the key to a successful town centre was shops and businesses employing lots of people. If the business is not located in the town centre, “women will not want to work for these companies, as they want to be able to shop at lunchtime.”

    Maybe today , some would say that this was a bit sexist, but in the context of the time (the 1970’s) it was probably true.

    Those days when people started at 9, had lunch at 1 for an hour, and home at 5, and were not addicted to emails, which did not yet exist. Phones and typewriters. How delightfully quaint! And lunch time drinks ? For some , maybe.

    When Croydon had many large companies, including many insurance companies, and ( I guess) Nestle HQ, and a High Street with buses, and several department stores.

    I also think that David Wickens is right, and that T’Internet shopping has reduced the footfall in the shops.

    Yet, shopping as Leisure is a fact, upon which huge swathes of London depend, with tourism huge in the West, including Westfield. Most of us still love to meet, see other people, and –if the shop looks well-stocked and presented, or is a source of nice things, and bargains, and is easy to access via public or own transport, we will go in and maybe, buy. Buy less than we used to, in my case, but we still like to escape the confines of the home, and flock together, in town. We’re social aniimals! Hurray!

    Otherwise we are confined to a narrow role, confined indoors alone.

    In the e-world of today’s shopping, just like the mail order world of the TV generation, shopping is still going to exist for this reason, and the desire of the clothing or footwear purchaser to see and try on the real thing.

    The success of Croydon will depend on its appeal to the public who have money to spend and time to spend while spending it! The public are not the mainly white working and middle classes who were the main clientele in the early 70’s. It’s a growing more diverse clientele since the 80’s.

    But what ever their origin, a town centre with only the cheap shops, is not going to pull in the shoppers of tomorrow, nor will it get the modern office worker away from their hot desks at lunch time.

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