BARRATT HOLMES asks: will Westfield show up at the third time of asking for a planning meeting later this month?
There should be an announcement “within days” over the redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre, after months of negotiations between developers Westfield and Hammerson and Government ministers and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
As revealed exclusively by Inside Croydon earlier this week, Tony Newman, the council leader, accompanied by Croydon Conservatives’ Tim Pollard, met with ministers on Monday. Gavin Barwell, the Nando’s-loving former governor of the Whitgift Foundation and sometime MP for Croydon Central, has also attended meetings with Westfield in the past fortnight, as concerns over the stalled £1.4billion have continued to mount.
Westfield and Hammerson forged an uncomfortable partnership in 2012 out of convenience and political pressure from Barwell and the then Mayor, Boris Johnson. But Hammersfield have made little progress with the scheme since 2015, when the council oversaw a large-scale Compulsory Purchase Order of the area, a planning inspector inquiry and granted planning permission.
Westfield wants to revise its plans, almost doubling the amount of housing it will build on the site, as the project becomes much more of a housing scheme with a shopping centre tacked on than was originally proposed. A “provisional planning meeting” has been set aside by Croydon Council for October 26, a week today.
Sources at Westminster indicate that the latest discussions have been over payments for infrastructure and the amounts of affordable housing included in the project.
Hammersfield, and Croydon’s planners, will be mindful of the news this week from City Hall, after Mayor Khan used his powers to call-in the planning decision of Tory council Wandsworth for a scheme in Battersea, which originally proposed just 23 per cent affordable housing.
Khan has now announced that 136 of the 385 homes to be built in Battersea will be affordable – setting the bar at 35 per cent. Mayor Khan has also recently redefined what he requires as “affordable”, which would make rents much closer to social housing levels, rather than the unaffordable 80 per cent of London market value prices tolerated under his predecessor.
In Croydon, when Westfield went back to the drawing board last year, they wanted to build 1,000 “luxury apartments” in tall tower blocks overshadowing the Wellesley Road.
And previously, Westfield and Hammerson had earmarked £10million under Section 106 requirements towards the cost of local infrastructure, which they had specified they wanted spent on a new loop for the tram network. It seems probable that an agreement has been reached to divert this funding to other, more necessary schemes. “The loop is an aspiration, not a commitment,” a Transport for London officer told a Croydon traffic management committee this week.
If Westfield’s plans for the town centre do materialise ahead of the additional committee meeting arranged for October 26, it will be the third time of asking this year, after previous meetings in April and June were lined up and then swerved by the developers.
Westfield’s shopping centre in Croydon was originally due to open in 2017. The Croydon Partners had said that they wanted to begin demolition work on the decrepit Whitgift Centre in 2018.
If they are granted planning permission (and what’s the council going to say now to any scheme that they submit? “No”?) and get underway some time next year, 2022 is the earliest that the new supermall is likely to be open for business. At least Westfield’s flats will be handy for the shops…
“We’re having some very encouraging conversations, but we will have a lot more to say in a few days’ time,” was all that a Guildford-based small-circulation rag managed to get out of Newman.
“We’re hopeful that we can see the Westfield project sooner rather than later at the planning committee. But there’s still an awful lot of work to be done,” Newman said.
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