Our retailing correspondent, M.T. WALLETTE, dampens down recent speculation arising from a speech from a director of the shopping mall developers
Westfield today denied reports on social media that one of its most senior executives had announced that a deal had been struck with the John Lewis Partnership for it to open an anchor store in the £1.4billion supermall planned for the town centre.
And the John Lewis Partnership dismissed the reports as “speculation”.
Steve Yewman, Westfield’s development director, yesterday addressed a networking lunch organised by Crystal Palace football club’s business club. Some of the attendees at the event related that he told them that John Lewis would close their Purley Way At Home store and instead open a department store in the long-planned Hammersfield supermall.
Yewman was also supposed to have given another, revised, opening date of 2022 – which would make it a full decade since the “regeneration” plans were first announced by the then London Mayor, Boris Johnson, and the sometime MP for the Whitgift Foundation, Gavin Barwell.
But progress on the biggest redevelopment in Croydon for half a century has been stalled since a Compulsory Purchase Order was agreed in 2015. A revised planning application from Westfield and partners Hammerson was supposed to have been submitted to Croydon Council nearly six months ago, with a view to demolition work of the existing Whitgift Centre beginning in early 2018.
The Croydon Partnership website is still suggesting that the supermall, which was supposed to have been built and operational by 2017, will finally be ready for business in 2021. That’s now looking increasingly unlikely.
There’s mounting concerns over the slow progress, especially among the governors of the Whitgift Foundation, which owns the freehold of the steadily declining Whitgift Centre, and who depend on the commercial income from the shopping mall site to help meet the costs of running their alms houses and private schools. It was the Foundation which invited Westfield to Croydon in 2012, when the Whitgift Centre leasees had already engaged Hammersons to oversee a redevelopment of the site.
Inside Croydon reported exclusively in July that the delays have been caused in major part because Westfield has been unable to secure any agreement from John Lewis to take space in the development – probably in the area which was once the Allder’s department store.
Since then, John Lewis’s new chief executive, Paula Nickolds, in an extensive interview in the Sunday Times, failed to mention Croydon among the three store openings planned by the company.
And the partnership has also just reported a 50 per cent fall in half-yearly profits, reflecting the accelerating decline for high street retailers.
Neither of these can be seen as particularly promising indicators for Westfield’s hopes of securing a John Lewis store for their shopping centre. To date, the biggest “attraction” that they have announced is … Marks and Sparks. Yeah.
Today, when asked about the John Lewis comments attributed to Yewman at the networking lunch, a member of his staff told Inside Croydon, “That is definitely not the case.”
Croydon’s dalliance with John Lewis has been going on for around 20 years (it just seems like longer). They were once mentioned as potential occupiers for a redevelopment on the site of where St George’s Walk now stands. It never happened.
Today, a spokeswoman for the John Lewis Partnership said of the latest reports, “We are often linked to speculation about where we’ll open a new shop, but we don’t comment on speculation.”
And a spokesman for the Croydon Partnership said that Steve Yewman’s speech had talked about the wider redevelopment and regeneration of Croydon. But when it came to John Lewis, Yewman said that they “had made a commitment to the town (not the scheme itself)”.
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