M.T. WALLETTE, our retail correspondent, on how some of the Whitgift Centre’s tenants are insisting on being bought out through a Compulsory Purchase Order
Last night’s council cabinet meeting confirmed that the £1.4billion redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre won’t be completed until the autumn of 2023. And that’s at the earliest.
That 2023 date – first reported by Inside Croydon – is more than a decade after the scheme was trumpeted by the centre’s owners, the Whitgift Foundation, and their tame local MP, Gavin Barwell.
And 2023 is six years later than the originally announced 2017 opening date.
The near-decade-long drag of development blight caused by the venture was highlighted in one of the headings of the council’s business report:
Croydon’s Sustainable Community Strategy 2013–2018.
Because it has now emerged that demolition and development work on the site won’t even commence until 2019 – more than a year after the period that this “strategy” was supposed to cover.
The council report does provide a previously unreleased detail – that work on the demolition of the 1960s-built Whitgift now won’t be started before September 2019 – representing another slippage in delivery, of a further few months over the most recent estimate provided by the developers.
And this grand announcement was made on the day when the collapse of Britain’s retail sector continued apace, with Poundworld becoming the latest High Street chain to go into receivership, putting 5,000 jobs around the country at risk. Will there even be a High Street retail sector by the time that Croydon’s supermall finally opens?
Certainly, this latest council report is the first that many Town Hall observers can recall which offers a more objective assessment of the scheme’s potential, and the impact that the Hammersfield development – or lack of it – has had on the town centre for the last six years. Not before time, some might suggest.
“Evidence of the long-standing need to regenerate Croydon town, its failure to fulfil its function as Metropolitan Centre and the need for significant investment to address its decline was considered at the public inquiry into the CPO in February and March 2015,” the council report states.
Things were bad then, and they haven’t got any better, the report makes clear.
“Since the CPO inquiry, vacancy rates in Croydon Metropolitan Centre remain high. For the 2016-2017 monitoring year, 37 per cent of office floor space in the Metropolitan Centre is vacant, which is reflective of a decline in the demand for available offices and an indication that the office market is underperforming.
“There continues to be a high level of vacancy in the retail core. In November 2017 the vacancy rate for retailing in the centre was 11 per cent of Class A floor space, up from 9 per cent in 2016.”
The next bit, though, is a rare example of a council report providing what could be read as criticism of the Croydon Partnership – Westfield and Hammerson – for dragging their feet over the development. Given that it refers to the period since 2014, it might also be taken as a less-than-flattering summary of the council under self-acclaimed “regeneration practitioner”, chief exec Jo Negrini, and the Labour administration under council leader Tony Newman and his developer-friendly cabal.
“There has been no significant additional investment in the town centre retail offer since the CPO inquiry and the town centre continues to suffer from a poor physical environment, a lack of investment in infrastructure and the image of the town centre remains poor (due to crime or the fear of crime),” the report says.
“There is a legacy of outdated buildings that are no longer fit for purpose.
“There has been little change in the retail offer since the inquiry and the Metropolitan Centre still does not have the range of retailers that are offered by its competing centres and other centres of a similar size.
“There is a particular lack in more upmarket retailers and the breadth and range found in other Metropolitan Centres…
“Leisure provision in the town centre remains lacking and there is a need for more family-suitable food and beverage provision within the retail core…
“Whilst the council has been carrying out a programme of public realm improvement works, these are limited in scope. There remains a requirement for significant investment in infrastructure.
“In short, the town centre continues to fail to fulfil its role as a Metropolitan Centre and there remains a pressing need for its regeneration.”
The purpose of last night’s report was to rubber-stamp the move to activate the terms of the CPO, for the council to acquire the remaining packets of land and property to allow the developers to move in.
According to the report, after more than three years of negotiations, the Croydon Partnership (the joint venture between Hammerson and what we must learn to call Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield), has managed to secure agreement from only nine traders based in the Whitgift Centre to move to stores in Centrale for the duration of the re-build. This, in a press release issued today on behalf of council-backed Develop Croydon, is described as “substantial progress”.
Those hanging out for potentially better terms under the CPO include Legal and General and two corporate entities of Minerva, the property developers who had an interest in the old Allders store and who once promised Croydon a branch of John Lewis and the land of milk and honey through the redevelopment of St George’s Walk.
“All owners with whom agreements have yet to be reached will be notified by letter in the next few weeks with details of the next steps,” the press release stated.
- Click here to download a pdf of the council’s report entitled “Delivering Westfield” (as opposed to the more accurate “Delivering for Westfield”)
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