Store closures spark more concern for £1.4bn Westfield plans

Our retailing correspondent, MT WALLETTE, on the latest dire news for plans to base the regeneration of Croydon on the building a shopping mall

Today’s announcement to the London Stock Exchange of a two-thirds fall in annual profits for Marks and Spencer is just the latest piece of hard data from the retail sector to stoke growing fears over the prospects for the £1.4billion Westfield and Hammerson scheme to redevelop Croydon’s Whitgift and Centrale shopping centres.

“Hammersfield” was granted planning permission by Croydon Council – for a second time – six months ago. What was originally devised as a supermall with some flats tacked on was now being proposed as a 1,000-homes residential development, with a shopping centre tacked on.

But traders and shop-keepers in the increasingly run-down Whitgift Centre have been given no updates on when the bulldozers are likely to move in since planning permission was granted, fuelling speculation that any prospect of a start in “early 2019” is becoming more remote.

Croydon’s town centre has suffered from a development blight since 2012, when Tories Gavin Barwell – then a trustee of the landowners, the Whitgift Foundation – and Boris Johnson first championed the “Croydon Partnership” between Westfield and Centrale owners Hammerson.

The latest announcements from M&S ought to be cause for particular concern in Croydon, because Marks and Sparks remains the only confirmed taker of an “anchor store” in the revised Westfield plans.

That’s the same Marks and Spencer who yesterday announced “accelerated” plans for more than 100 store closures by 2022 – 1 in 3 of its core clothing and home stores are scheduled to disappear from the high street within four years.

Recent closures of entire high street chains, such as Toys ‘R Us and Maplin, and dire trading announcements from Mothercare and House of Fraser have also testified to the change in the public’s shopping habits – something which was entirely predictable in 2012 when Barwell and Bozo announced that Croydon’s future could be transformed by retail therapy.

The time for that, as fashionista Wayne Hemingway stated last week, is surely gone.

Certainly, that appears to be the view of M&S chief executive, Steve Rowe, as he has seen his company’s share of sales transfer to the internet and to no-frills chains such as Primark, Aldi and Lidl. “Together with a challenging UK consumer market, [these developments] mean that we have to modernise our business to ensure we are competitive and reignite our culture.

“Accelerated change is the only option.”

The Guardian quoted retail analyst Richard Lim as saying, “M&S has too much space in today’s digitally driven age of consumption. These are bold decisions to embrace, adapt and innovate in order to survive.”

When asked by Inside Croydon whether the company retains its plans to move into a larger, re-built store in Croydon’s Westfield, a M&S spokeswoman said, “We will update further as and when it is right to do so.”

Centrale’s department store, House of Fraser, could have its fate determined next month

Last week, Mothercare announced its own “accelerated” plans for store closures. The baby products retailer said it was in a “perilous” financial position, and has decided to close 50 of its 128 stores by 2020, with a loss of around 800 jobs.

Which stores are to close have yet to be announced; Mothercare has two stores in Croydon, one in the Whitgift Centre, another in the retail park on Purley Way.

And the fate of Croydon town centre department store, House of Fraser, remains in doubt, at least until the start of June, as the owners undergo a corporate “restructuring”.

As part of a takeover by Chinese retailer C.Banner, the retailer is preparing a Company Voluntary Arrangement, a CVA, which may involve widespread store closures.

“There is a need to create a leaner business to serve rapidly changing behaviours of customers,” Frank Slevin, the company’s chairman, said last week, adding that it needs “stores of the right size and location’’.

The CVA is designed to help the struggling company to pay back a proportion of its debts over time. It involves a strict repayment scheme overseen by an insolvency practitioner and must be approved by at least three-quarters of the firm’s creditors.

A spokesman for House of Fraser told Inside Croydon today, “We cannot provide any commentary on specific stores or developments; details of the CVA will be announced at the beginning of June. A CVA can take a number of formats, including a rent review, lease restructurings, and store closures. It is not limited to any of these options.”

Of course, none of those options are particularly helpful to those in the shopping centre business, such as Hammerson and Westfield.

Additional research by Marcus Tyler and Owen Hethersay


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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
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26 Responses to Store closures spark more concern for £1.4bn Westfield plans

  1. farmersboy says:

    Westfield supermall won’t happen (don’t want to say I told you so Mr Barwell). What I predict, as I have all along, is a Starbucks, a Tesco express and 1500 unaffordable flats but I’m not into shopping or the retail experience so could never see what was wrong with having two malls and Purley Way anyway

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Bars and and coffee shops, hairdressers and nail bars. Perhaps some click and collect counters and that will be about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jackgriffin1933 says:

    Although not a shopping centre fan, I have found myself in Westfield Stratford on a number of occasions – and it always seems to be humming. While not quite as stabby, perhaps, as the Cronx, the area is not especially leafy – yet a contemporary environment with modernised transport facilities seems still to attract the crowds.

    So a successful gig in Croydon is not incredible: providing, of course, the Lowys don’t shaft us (possibly less likely with ‘Cranky Franky’ out of the way).

    Although things have obviously changed, I think the death of retail is exaggerated to an extent (as anyone who has ever bought shoes online will know).

    Among the reasons contributing to its struggle, however, are:

    1. Most of the major recent failures are actually because these were not shops being run by shopkeepers, but money labs run by financial engineers engaged in self-enrichment programmes based on gearing experiments and pension fraud.

    Where authentic retailers are in charge – John Lewis, Tesco, to name a couple – it’s still tough, yet do-able.

    2. The experience is awful. Perhaps it’s peculiar to Croydon, yet outlets such as Sports Direct, Currys PC World etc go out of their way to make it difficult to buy anything, all the while treating you like a criminal,

    Trying to replace a Chromebook in Currys recently was appalling: nothing actually for sale on the shop floor (all behind locked doors) and a man with a clipboard taking your name to place you in a queue for a shop assistant were the least of it. And the ‘you’re a thief until proven otherwise’ treatment you get in Sports Direct has never made me more feel like shoplifting in my life.

    3. M&S, in the particular, has a shite offer at the moment – and has done for some time. Food is good (albeit eye-wateringly expensive), yet the rest is dowdy and tired, with a concomitant reduction in quality at increased cost.

    I used to buy industrial-grade business suits – from which you’d get a good few years of everyday wear – from them all the time. Now: they’re fashion cuts, not especially inexpensive and you can see your face in the trousers within a few months.

    With dedicated retailers at the helm, with good ranges, properly priced – for your audience, whoever that may be – and a decent customer experience ‘in store’, there’s still a chance for these places.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Lewis White says:

    I would like to see all of the Whitgift Centre demolished and replaced with a centrally-placed new park similar in size to Queen’s Gardens , open air cafes, and blocks of flats , with Allders converted to a new mall

    Without significant greening– trees and grass, open air and sunshine, this redevelopment is just going to be a concrete desert.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You mean: how it was until the Whitgift Foundation concreted over that part of central Croydon, Lewis?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lewis White says:

        In many ways, yes! But with a modern design approach.

        I actually entered the grounds and building of the old Trinity School (Middle Whitgift) in the 1960’s– a wonderful green space just behind the shops on the High Street’s Eastern side, with the Hogwarts-style whacky Victorian school building, just a year before demolition.

        I also recall the open air Whitgift Centre, which lost something — breezyness and sunniness- when it was roofed over.

        My suggestion of a new gardens, plus flats, is a response to a deep feeling that Croydon is just too covered in bricks and mortar. It needs liberating and uncovering, and greening, to let the light and air in.

        I also think that a judicious combination of open air and shops will pull in the punters — people don’t have to come to Croydon, but perhaps many wil decide to do the journey in by car or bus to enjoy a combination of relaxation in the open air, people watching at the cafes, and shopping.

        Has anyone got the vision to deliver this?

        Like

  5. I share the frustration of the delays in this project, but I am still very much convinced it will happen. Westfields are generally holding up well and in Croydon we have a huge catchment area for a Westfield. We would attract people all the way from the south coast and across from Bromley and out past Sutton.
    Just a little more patience in needed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And how will Westfield manage to do that – profitably – without large stores prepared to rent space in their shiny new mausoleum to retailing?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think you underestimate Westfields pull. For example the new Westfeild will attract stand alone shops from high end manufacturers such as Amarni, Versace etc. There will be any number of retailers who are coining it in at the other Westfields who will be queuing up to lease a shop in Croydon.
        Say what you like about Croydon we are surrounded by a lot of very wealthy areas with people who have a lot of money to spend in shops.
        I do think its time Inside Croydon took a positive view on the development.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for the advice. We’ll stick to the facts, thanks, rather than the fevered imaginings of a local property developer whose profits are dependent on demand for his properties, which might be enhanced by the presence of a large-scale supermall.

          Liked by 1 person

        • farmersboy says:

          Armani, Versace? The girls from Broad Green and Thornton Heath will be queuing round the block to look at things they can’t afford but the yoof will try to nick. Not wishing to stereotype anyone but I can’t see a housewife from Kenley who can afford that stuff sullying herself in Croydon when she can just as easily go to Knightsbridge

          Liked by 1 person

          • Lewis White says:

            That response does actually mention a key fact– it is very easy for us Croydon / Surrey suburbananites to get on a train, not alight at East Croydon, and — just 25 minutes later, be in the throbbing heart of the metropolis with its shopping and cultural delights, plus the spectacle and atmosphere of the capital –and the unique feature, the Thames. (sadly Croydon’s Wandle is trapped inside a concrete culvert somewhere under Old Town, its flow depleted by abstraction from the chalk hills around the town . Just imagine crystal clear streams bubbling up around the croydon Minster, with watecress and trout in the water— we had that 200 years ago !)

            Getting back to the huge magnetic attraction of London, and its multi-facetted strength relative to the weaker and smaller pole of Croydon, sadly, it is going to be a very hard task , in this click and order age, to get people back into Croydon—- unless it has alternative charms.

            I welcome the growing presence of Polish and other “foreign” shops, run by cheerful and hard working staff. There seem to be more 20 and 30 somethings around– and amazingly, a few more decent coffee shoppes and real ale bars. (yes, essential not just to baby boomers but to us all nowadays).

            Last weekend I went into Croydon by bus, and went to a shop in the Whitgift centre to buy some shirts. Great shirts–but also very good to note–fanstastic staff.
            Then Crown Hill, to buy some Caribbean food to take home. Great foood– but also, great staff. The owner was really friendly and welcoming.
            Spent 30 minutes sitting near a strete musician playing sax– Rodney– superb music, and friendly guy, we chatted as he cleared up at the bend of the performance.

            These Croydoin experences could never have been enjoyed if I sat indoors, ordering things on line, nor could be got by going to a Purley Way superstore.

            Only in the town centre, depleted as it is, could I get these person to person interractions, aka ……. being alive !

            Is this personal service and friendly shopping experience, with the culture provided by Rodney and his ilk, the real way forward, giving the key to renewal?.

            Well, I would like to think so, but for sucess, we need more people living in the town centre, to overcome the old problem of a “Polo town”– a hole in the middle. The renewed Fairfield halls will help too.

            Like

  6. I hereby reclaim my place as the one who first said it was not going to happen, and I still believe that.

    Look at the news to day: M&S closing 100 stores, John Lewis no longer building big stores, Tesco sharpening up its online presence, and other general Brexit-related lack of consumer confidence.

    The Field of Dreams it will not be.

    That worked on the hope that if you build it they will come….and they did, but they were only the ghosts of the past. Its a pipe dream to hope that people will travel miles to come to a Croydon Westfield. They won’t unless there is a heck of a lot more associated with the mall to attract them. Croydon hasn’t got that. A few bits of spectacular street art, a shabby pedestrianised high street and a silly parklet will attract nothing profitable at all.

    Retail has changed forever and five or six years hence, the likely completion date for any Westfield if it is started, its going to be even worse.

    Must go now: the man from Amazon is at the door with the stuff I ordered yesterday and then I must pop down to the local convenience store, by foot so no parking problems, for the few odd things that I need immediately and to make some contact with local people.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. derekthrower says:

    Has there been other examples of so much money spent and endless hype resulting in no output other than the permanent blight of a Town Centre. Even the Bradford Hole was completed after 11 years, but it seems all that Gavin Barwell & Boris Johnson wanted to acheive for Croydon was to turn it into a permanent hole.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. farmersboy says:

    There’s a couple of things that make it different to Stratford and the West London Westfields:
    Both of them have dedicated entrances from the local tube/train station and people now don’t even want to walk for five minutes to get somewhere (even if it’s a place they are going walk aimlessly round for a couple of hours)
    Whether you call it Westfield South or Westfield Surrey or whatever it will still be Croydon which isn’t an attractive destination – as a comment above points out ‘it’s a bit stabby’ and no amount of street art will change that image

    Liked by 1 person

    • Access is certainly an issue. You have to wonder how many people will want to struggle up the A23, then pay a fortune to park. You would only have to get fined once for straying into a bus lane and you surely wouldn’t come back in a hurry.

      Liked by 1 person

      • farmersboy says:

        I don’t drive but even I can see it’s not an easy place to get to from any direction and then you’ve got Wellesley Road to deal with

        Liked by 1 person

        • David Mogoh says:

          I hadn’t realised how unpopular the prospective Westfield was!

          I’m no big fan of large corporates but that massive hole in the middle of Croydon needs to be filled with something – and I’d much rather it was a Westfield than simply more “luxury apartments” (albeit the number of these being added on by Westfield is ever increasing).

          It is fair to say that any positive comment on Westfield seems to attract negative responses (and down thumbs) on this site. That doesn’t seem to reflect in the general feeling of people I know in Croydon whose main concern is it not happening at all, rather than it actually happening. That of course remains to be seen. Here’s looking forward to seeing the 1st bull dozer turn up!!

          Liked by 1 person

          • farmersboy says:

            There’s not a big hole in the middle of Croydon, there’s two shopping malls full of the same shops that will occupy the same space but at vastly inflated rent (see ya Card Factory) and the £1.4 billion figure bandied about will be spent on building flats.
            I apologise for not looking back or googling but what kind of s106 agreements have been reached or are Croydon Council and TFL just lying back and tamely accepting whatever they’re told to spend?

            Liked by 1 person

        • EH?!! Croydon has the best transport links in London. West and East Croydon stations are on the door step of the proposed Westfield, trams stop outside, buses from every direction. Crikey how much more convenient do you want it to be?

          Like

  9. Nick Davies says:

    I thought Mr Philp had sorted everything out. Or have I missed something?

    http://www.chrisphilp.com/blog.asp?BlogID=131

    Liked by 1 person

  10. farmersboy says:

    As did Barwell, as did the tory council and then the labour council. It’s not even Philp’s constituency. No 16 storey blocks in Purley but build build build to the sky in Croydon Central
    Fairfield Halls will open soon as well…

    Liked by 1 person

  11. croydonres says:

    There are so many areas of Croydon needing regeneration.

    The East Croydon Station area at long last is getting towards completion.

    Morello-ville as well, like it or loathe it (I must admit, I was a loather, but am almost a liker now— albeit that the new twin towers may move me back to loathing)

    Whitgift / Westfield … yes, let it happen soon,

    My other big hope is that something happens to start regeneration of St George’s Walk. Unbelievable that it has been derelict so long.

    Like

  12. Short memory time: people forget very quickly that the reason St George’s Walk and Katharine House are derelict is because they were going to be in the centre of the new, wonderful Minerva-led development of the area, the one that was going to feature John Lewis as its star tenant.

    That never came to be – mainly because of major league mendacity – and neither will Westfield Croydon where, at the beginning…guess what…John Lewis was puffed as the lead client.

    As our Gallic friends are fond of saying, quite rightly: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

    Like

  13. Lewis White says:

    Re St George’s Walk, I am wondering what the new Chinese owners plan to do with the site…… and above all, “when” ?.
    If they wait to gauge the popularity of the nearby major mainly residential development on the Taberner House site, before coming up with their deatiled plans for St G .Walk, we will be in for even a longer wait.

    If the Planners and Councillors of 1950’s Croydon are looking down from their tower block in the heavens, (who I assume have by now departed the surface of Planet earth, but if not, my sincere regards to any of them who are reading this response) I dare say they will be wondering why our generation are taking so long to regenerate the central Croydon of our times. It wouldn’t happen in China.

    Like

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