John Burton, the Aussie businessman who has driven shopping mall developer Westfield’s schemes at Stratford, Shepherd’s Bush and, more recently and seemingly with the handbrake left on, in Croydon, is to leave the company.
Burton’s decision to return to his native Australia is probably the latest indicator of how matters are likely to change within Westfield since the multi-billion sell-out of the business last year to French rivals, Unibail-Rodamco.
Burton was appointed director of Stratford City, Europe’s largest shopping centre when it was still in development, in 2005. It was during his time working on this centre that he will have first encountered fellow Aussie Jo Negrini, when she was working in Newham council’s planning department. Negrini would later be hired by Croydon once Westfield were on the scene here, and has since risen to the dizzying height of self-promoting chief executive.
Stratford City was delivered and opened within eight years, operational by the time of the 2012 London Olympics. Westfield Croydon, now a housing scheme with some retail tacked on and budgeted to cost £1.4billion, has been in planning for six years already, and is unlikely to be open for business until 2023, at the earliest.
Burton was made head of development for Westfield UK/Europe in 2015 – three years into the so-slow progress of the Croydon scheme, and has been front and centre ever since his company muscled in on the redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre in Croydon, at the invitation of the then local MP, Gavin Barwell, and the owners, the Whitgift Foundation.
A Westfield company spokesperson yesterday confirmed the director’s departure, only saying Burton, who originally hails from Canberra, was set to return to Australia. Burton’s departure has not warranted any information being posted on the Westfield corporate website. Read into that what you will.
It might be instructive to re-read the contents of an interview Burton gave two years ago, to a retailing trade website, and long before there was any mention of Westfield being sold off to the French.
“At Croydon,” Burton said then, “we have a big development coming up.
“We already have our east and west anchors; now, something we’ve had our eye on for the best part of 15 years, is the southern area and the metropolitan capital of south London which is what we anticipate Croydon will become again. It was once before, it had a very slow and painful death but now we’re going to bring it back.” Note that: it is Westfield “bringing Croydon back”, in what sounds very much like a corporate takeover of the town centre.
“We’ve just had confirmation from the Government that the council can use compulsory purchase. We can now consolidate what is an incredibly difficult site to put together. There are more than 700 different interests and we have nearly all of them now, including things like overhead works, the cranes, fire regulations for adjacent buildings – we can deal with all those in one go now. We should be on site there by end of 2016 with a big kick off in 2017, opening 2020.” Yes, he really did say that. In June 2016.
But even Burton now won’t be sticking around for the delivery of that scheme, some six years-plus later than its original 2017 delivery date.
As they might say in Canberra: cheers, mate!
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