KEN LEE, our Town Hall reporter, on the latest move by the council to make it easier for Westfield to rent out space in its supermall to boozers, bars and places flogging £10 burgers
There’s an estimated 17,000 people moving into new homes in the centre of Croydon over the next five years or so. And the brains trust at Croydon Council has decided that they should all have the convenience of a night club or bar right on their high-rise’s doorstep.
That’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from the latest missive issued from the press office in Fisher’s Folly last week. That, and the fact that the council which is supposed to represent the interests of all residents and all businesses in the borough is preparing to alter a long-standing policy for the benefit of one business: Westfield.
“Changes to people’s social habits and a drive to boost the night-time economy are behind Croydon Council’s decision to conduct a review of licensing requirements in the town centre,” the council’s media office’s intro announces, clearly struggling for inspiration. Maybe it was drafted after a lunch-time bevvy?
“First written in 2004, the licensing policy contains a section relating to premises within the town centre’s defined area, which states that, because of the high concentration of pubs, bars and clubs in a relatively small area, there is a presumption to refuse new applications from premises used exclusively or primarily for the sale of alcohol and/or with loud amplified recorded music.”
You still with us? Basically, the council has tended to refuse new applications for boozers in the town centre for the past 13 years – unless, of course, your name is Roger Wade and you have a £3million loan from the council for Boozepark tucked into your back pocket.
The council press release’s dry prose continues: “There were concerns that a concentration of such licensed premises could result in an increase in crime and disorder.” And of course, the licensing ban has made great strides in addressing those concerns. Or not… Ask the residents and businesses on Surrey Street.
The council’s press notice continues: “In the ensuing 13 years, however, there has been considerable change in consumer habits and an accompanying decline in the number of pubs, bars and clubs in the town centre, in favour of a broader range of premises offering food and entertainment in an effort to meet customers’ evolving tastes.
“The policy review seeks to remove the special town-centre section of the policy as it is no longer applicable. If, however, an application is met with relevant objections, it will continue to be referred to the council’s licensing sub-committee for decision.”
Why is this significant? Why is the council bringing this forward now?
In a word: Westfield.
The chances are, if the £1.4billion supermall on the site of the Whitgift Centre and Centrale ever does ever get built by Westfield and their “partners”, Hammerson, then the mix of retail and bars may well lean away from the former. Retailing habits are changing, with ever-increasing amounts of shopping now going online. The public don’t need shops any longer.
Westfield flagged up its re-jigged outlook to deliver an over-sized bar and restaurant centre earlier this year when one of their executives, speaking to property speculators at a conference in the south of France chaired by Croydon’s £185,000 a year CEO Jo Negrini, expressed some thanks to Boozepark “for getting Croydon ready for the ten-quid burger”.
Yep: unhealthy food, unhealthily overpriced, is all part of the Westfield masterplan now.
But to be able to rent out space to a prolifieration of bars and clubs in the supermall space beneath the 1,000 flats Westfield plan to build, Croydon Council first needs to relax its licensing restrictions in the town centre.
Because what Westfield want, Westfield gets.
Hence last week’s announcement. “The council’s obliged to review its licensing policy every five years,” said Hamida Ali, the pliant Labour-run council’s cabinet member responsible for policing and licensing matters. “Croydon’s would have been due for review next year, but given the changes we’ve seen to the evening economy, and the vision we have for Croydon over the next five years, we wanted to bring the review forward.”
In other words: Westfield.
“We’re keen that our licensing policy better reflects the aspirations we have for Croydon as a place and a destination of choice.” Westfield.
“We believe the proposed changes will make the application process simpler for licence holders and potential licence holders…” Westfield, “…and result in a more vibrant and diverse offer for anyone coming into Croydon for a night out.” Or Westfield.
The council, on behalf of Westfield, is staging a consultation on the matter until November 13, “inviting comments from licence-holders and the public on the review’s proposals”. And then it will go ahead and do exactly what it wants.
Anybody wishing to comment can do so by emailing email@example.com or by writing to: The licensing team
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