Newman holds meeting with ministers over Westfield’s delays

By Ken Lee, Town Hall correspondent

Tony Newman: in discussions with ministers over the state of Westfield’s plans

Tony Newman, the Labour leader of the council, was missing from the Town Hall for last night’s extraordinary meeting on the state of the borough’s children’s services. Apparently, he had more important matters to attend to.

According to Stuart Collins, who chaired last night’s Town Hall meeting, Newman and the leader of the Conservative opposition on the council, Tim Pollard, were away in London to meet with ministers to discuss the situation over Westfield’s badly stalled £1.4billion redevelopment of the town centre.

“Even the Brexit negotiations are proceeding with more speed than Westfield’s development plans,” one Tory back bench wag muttered.

No further details were provided about Newman and Pollard’s diary appointments. The cross-party nature of the delegation may be a shrewd move by Newman, making it more difficult for the Tory opposition to continue to attempt to pin the blame for the lack of progress on the council, and its Labour administration.

While Pollard eventually arrived late at the children’s services meeting, Newman failed to make any appearance. He no doubt had to go away to reconsider his misconceived council slogan of “Delivering for Croydon”.

Westfield, in a forced partnership with shopping centre managers Hammerson, were supposed to be opening their redeveloped supermall on the site of the Whitgift Centre and Centrale this year. No building work has been undertaken, despite a Compulsory Purchase Order on the large area and planning permission being granted by the council two years ago.

Westfield are known to want planning permission for a significantly altered scheme, one which almost doubles the number of town centre flats to be built, to 1,000, in half a dozen high-rise towers along Wellesley Way. But the developers have been stalled for more than a year and have so far failed to submit their revised plans to the council.

Westfield want 1,000 flats built along the Wellesley Road

Anxiety over the lack of progress has extended not just from the local council, but also to the borough’s biggest landowners.

The Whitgift Foundation, the charitable trust which owns the freehold for most of the Whitgift Centre, depends on the commercial income from the property to help fund its three large private schools and old people’s homes. The office block above the existing Whitgift Centre has been all but vacant for five years, providing little or no rents, and the occupancy rates of retail areas of the shopping centre are also in decline.

“The Foundation’s property income is well down,” one source told Inside Croydon. “But we still have to pay business rates on the empty property.”

It seems unlikely now that work could begin on demolishing the old centre before 2019, which means that the earliest that Croydon’s Hammersfield might be open for business could be 2023 – more than a decade since Tories Gavin Barwell and Boris Johnson announced the deal between Westfield and Hammerson.

Whether even Tory Government ministers have the powers to persuade Conservative party donors Westfield to take their handbrake off the development is debatable.

But the situation is serious enough that Barwell has in the past fortnight broken off from his busy workload as Prime Minister Theresa May’s Chief of Staff to attend a meeting with the developers.

John Burton, Westfield’s head of European operations, is out of the country on business this week and unavailable for comment, though some close to the developers suggest that there could be a significant announcement in the next 10 days or so.


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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in "Hammersfield", Business, CPO, Croydon Council, Housing, Planning, Property, Tim Pollard, Tony Newman, Whitgift Centre and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Newman holds meeting with ministers over Westfield’s delays

  1. Chetas Patel says:

    I’m a massive fan of Westfield but if they do pull out, i feel the Whitgift centre still has to be demolished, ideally the shops are retained alongside north end road and the space behind used for new office buildings or something else. If anything it might reinvigorate Centrale and the rest of the high street.

    A smaller town centre might mean less congestion, less anti social behavior, It’s a trade between better shopping and leisure services for all us from north Surrey/Croydon/Bromley and rest of south London who currently have to go into central London.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Newman and Pollard together means only one thing: PANIC!!

    It’s all beginning to unravel for the current council and I say this with great regret because, mediocre as they are, they are better than the nasty party alternative…but look at the record:

    >dozens of useless, vanity projects which have cost a fortune and which have not improved the life of residents one jot
    >vainglorious and unworkable planning decisions which will have the effect of over supplying the town with unrentable and unsaleable flats which, in any case, will end up be unliveable in for any length of time because equal attention was not paid to the intensive infrastructure and facilities support such expansion demands
    >the consequent dereliction of the town centre and its descent into a low rent, cheapie environment
    > failing social and other services, disappearance of life enhancing provisions like decent parks, theatre, cultural events and provision.
    >irresponsible spending on short term, immediate gratification projects like Boxpark
    >the appointment of a CEO with tunnel vision, unable to see beyond flats and “Field Of Dreams” for the development of the town
    >idiosyncratic and illogical traffic decisions and planning
    > acharismatic and virtually invisible presentation by the leader of the council

    And those are only the things that come to mind immediately.

    Much of this is not the council’s fault and has to do with government imposed austerity but much could have been avoided by better quality thinking, planning and consideration and less rushing into barely thought through projects.

    Other councils, working under similar constraints, have done much better.

    Our council needs to learn from them.

    Liked by 1 person

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