Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones is tonight meeting with the town centre developers, Westfield and Hammerson, where she says she wants to explore ways of “speeding up” the £1.4billion redevelopment which is already a year overdue and is now not expected to open until “early 2023”.
Jones reacted to this morning’s announcement that John Lewis had finally agreed to take an anchor store in the supermall, saying she was “delighted” by the news, as indeed the local politicians of both sides of the borough’s Town Hall duopoly claimed to be.
But with the scheme now unlikely to be ready to open for business for another five years, the Labour MP also aired understandable reservations about the length of time the project has taken.
“I know some people have concerns about the length of time this project could take, and I want to work with Croydon Council and the Croydon Partnership to see what can be done to speed up the process and ensure Croydon also remains a vibrant destination during the build phase,” Jones said in a statement issued from her constituency, which includes the town centre shopping area.
Jones shrewdly recognised that securing John Lewis’s part in the development was crucial to the overall viability of the scheme. ” This is a big step forward as it means the centre will be able to attract other high-quality shops and restaurants, creating a world-class retail and leisure destination,” she said. Just having a supersized Marks & Sparks clearly wouldn’t cut it.
“One of my priorities is to ensure this development works for the whole community, and I’m looking forward to meeting with Westfield this evening to talk about how we can work together to harness the talents of our young people, develop the right skills, and reduce knife crime.”
Jones added: “We are finally on our way to becoming the major retail hub of south London.”
The phrase, “Just rejoice at that news”, spoken in a soft, gravelly and condescending voice, may have occurred, but remained unsaid.
“Croydon really is the place to be,” Jones’s statement concluded, sounding more tourist board than Parliamentarian.
Jones’s predecessor as Croydon Central MP, Gavin Barwell, had claimed credit for bringing Westfield to the borough in 2012, acting with his Tory colleague, Boris Johnson, when he was Mayor of London. At that time, Barwell was a governor of the land-owners, the Whitgift Foundation.
Then, the entire scheme was supposed to have been undertaken and completed by… 2017.
But despite an expensive and lengthy Compulsory Purchase Order hearing held by a government inspector in 2015 to enable the local council to buy up packets of land around the Whitgift Centre site, the developers stalled and last year they prepared a renewed planning application which nearly doubled the amount of money-spinning residential properties on the site.
The revised planning application, including 967 flats in five tower blocks along Wellesley Road, was granted permission in January this year. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London swiftly granted his approval for the scheme, even though it promises to deliver only 20 per cent of its homes as “affordable”, well below the target of 35 per cent for new schemes set by the Mayor.
Sources close to the development suggest that Westfield has already spent more than £300million on the project.
The developers have now withdrawn a promised £15million commitment towards public infrastructure, which was to have been used for improvements to the tram network.
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