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
“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”.
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
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