Council has contingency plan for ‘blighted’ Westfield scheme

The council is readying itself for a ‘hard Crexit’ over a £1.4bn town centre redevelopment, according to industry watchers. By WALTER CRONXITE

Artist’s impression of the Westfield supermall for Croydon

There could be a further delay of two more years, to 2025, before the new Westfield shopping mall in central Croydon opens, according to the analysis offered by a widely read property journalist last week.

The council has even had to draw up contingency plans in case the whole deal collapses – what Peter Bill, writing in Property Week, describes as “a hard Crexit”.

Bill bases his judgement on what he calls “this blighted project” on a brief encounter with Croydon Council chief executive Jo Negrini a couple of months ago, when he says he asked her about the Town Hall plans in case the wheels do fall off the Croydon Partnership of Hammerson and Westfield and their £1.4billion scheme for 1,000 flats and a shopping centre.

“We’re not stupid,” Negrini is supposed to have said, risking having council-watchers to provide a litany of examples to prove her claim wrong.

“We are watching carefully what is going on,” Negrini is supposed to have told Bill at one of the many cosy little get-togethers she likes to attend to burnish her reputation with developers.

“The look in the Aussie town planner’s eyes told the tale,” Bill observed in his Property Week column last week.

The column was written following the significant shifts in ownership, and in corporate policy, at the two members of the Croydon Partnership, Hammerson and Westfield.

Croydon ‘partners’: Westfield’s John Burton, left, with Peter Cole of Hammerson (centre), have both left their jobs. Who will be next?

In July, Hammerson announced it was shelving development plans for their other large London mall, at Brent Cross. In part, at least, this is because of growing uncertainties over Brexit.

Since then, a takeover for the troubled House of Fraser, which has a key department store in Hammerson-owned Centrale, has collapsed. The Financial Times reported that Hammerson may well be seeking someone to buy-out its Croydon interests, an analysis with which Bill agrees.

Also last month, we reported how John Burton, the Australian who had been in charge of Westfield’s European operation that had delivered supermalls at Stratford and Shepherd’s Bush before the stalled Croydon scheme, was leaving the company.

Now, his opposite number at Hammerson, Peter Cole, is leaving his job, too.

Bill notes that Cole “fell on his sword… as part of Hammerson’s defensive plan to shrink the business in order to increase its share price”.

The Hammersfield project and its cheerleaders have promised to turn Croydon into some kind of suburban land of milk and honey since 2012. But bit by bit, it looks to be falling apart. There’s no prospect of the development blight created around the Whitgift Centre and High Street being lifted any time soon, with demolition work not due to start for 12 months at the earliest.

As Bill highlights, Hammerson’s Cole has even admitted that detailed designs haven’t even yet been started for the swathe of town centre property.

Like many people in Croydon, Bill is intrigued to find out what plans the council, and Negrini, might have if it really does all go tits up.

With the original partners having already spent the thick end of £300million on the scheme over the past six years, Bill believes that the most likely scenario is that Unibail, Westfield’s new French owners, will take it on.

It is, however, entirely typical of Negrini and her style of local administration that, while she has shared with private developers at least an indication that the council has a contingency plan, similar information has been withheld from the people who pay her £200,000 annual salary, the Council Tax-payers of Croydon.

Bill writes: “Like Mrs May and her contingency plans for hard Brexit, Negrini’s team have contingency plans for Crexit: the departure of one or both the members of the Croydon Partnership, and/or a further substantial delay. Unlikely, yes.

“More likely is Unibail taking effective control and completing the development using the talented Westfield team under Peter Miller, who ran Europe for Westfield and is now chief operating officer of the UK.

“But given the history of this blighted project anything is possible. Even an opening in 2025.”

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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
This entry was posted in "Hammersfield", Business, Centrale, Croydon Council, House of Fraser, Jo Negrini, John Burton, Whitgift Centre, Whitgift Foundation and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Council has contingency plan for ‘blighted’ Westfield scheme

  1. farmersboy says:

    Croydon Village Store could buy out Hammerson…

  2. sed30 says:

    Reblogged this on sed30's Blog and commented:
    The saga continues 😞

  3. derekthrower says:

    We know what the Council’s contingency plan is when this sorry charade finally bites the dust. Jo “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini will leave at short notice with a massive but undisclosed pay off. No consideration will be made of the destruction of a thriving centre at the turn of the century which has been obiliterated to create a blighted dust bowl of decline for property speculators to gaze at the paper gains on their spreadsheets. No consideration will be made of how this completely unqualified incompetent has mismanaged numerous council services into ruin. No consideration will be made of the growing stench of corruption which is starting to whiff out of the backed up drains around Bernard Weatherill House.
    When will we ever learn?

    • Ian Geary says:

      So then Derek,

      Whilst its easy to throw around unfounded accusations, what exactly would your master plan have involved?

      Given that the council would need external funding and commercial expertise to deliver a scheme this big, and flats provide a much better source of profit than office space,which is how developers will recoup their outlay?

      I think people get so het up about getting het up, they forget the realities of the situation, which was that developers are not exactly forming a queue to buy this site.

      You are probably right about the first bit, but it has always been thus in both private and public sector, so this has little direct relevance to Croydon’s situation.

      • >>>
        the realities of the situation, which was that developers are not exactly forming a queue to buy this site

        But in 2012, when all this began, they were, Ian.

        The site has never been up for sale. The Whitgift Centre is a revenue-generator for the borough's largest landowners, the Whitgift Foundation. Centrale is owned by Hammerson.

        This whole sorry saga began with a dispute over which developers would get the … ahem… privilege of redeveloping it. Leaseholders in the Whitgift Centre wanted Hammerson, the Foundation then called in Westfield. The resulting stand-off was "resolved" by Gavin Barwell and Boris Johnson, Croydon's answer to the Chuckle Brothers. The partnership which resulted from Hammerson and Westfield being forced to work together has been behind many of the delays, indecision and disagreements over the subsequent six and a half years.

        A lot has changed in the interim, including the entirely predictable decline in high street retailing, and the town centre development blight which is making the project now one of housing with a shopping centre attached.

        And through all of this, our council – under Tory and Labour control – have acted as cheerleaders for multi-billion developers, rather than working in the broader interests of local people and businesses.

        • I agree with everything you say except your comparison of Boris Johnson and Gavin Barwell to the Chuckle Brothers. In so doing you defame the Chuckle Brothers, until recently a national treasure who attracted laughter to the same level that Boris and Gavin attracted derision.

      • derekthrower says:

        Ian not completely clear what point you are making. You seem to be from the school who believed Croydon was going to get an Olympic boost from the location being situated on the same tube line back in 2012. No doubt the Whitgift Centre needs redeveloping, but the regeneration chosen has been to the detriment to the area. (Do you live here?) There are always other options available, but you appear to think that is a price worth paying.

        With regard to my other “allegations” it appears you cannot even be bothered to read Inside Croydon. I suggest you do a little reading.

        My allegation against you is that you are ill-informed and really need to keep on top of things.

  4. Excellent and accurate. Not too sure about the corruption stuff, though. Haven’t seen any evidence of that myself. Plenty of wilful blindness and stupidity, though. Negrini’s philosophy that flats everywhere and one mega shopping centre will cure all ills is no answer to the needs of an urban community. Add to that flattery from interested parties and you have the recipe for the disaster predicted by derekthrower

  5. Lewis White says:

    At the top of the Inside Croydon article above it shows an open air space presumably within the renewed shopping area. It looks appealing– a change from the boring indoor mall we have there now.

    I will be interested to see if any such open air spaces of any meaningful size and number will be designed into the final project. Without them, it will end up as yet another boring ….updated…. indoor mall.

    • It’s hard to be certain – after all, Hammersfield admit they haven’t even started their detailed designs yet – but it appears that the “open space” in the sketches you refer to, Lewis, is the current public open space on the High Street…

  6. I think all one can say, in the end, is that Hammersfield, like Brexit, is one huge, unholy mess which, however you spin it, is not going to end well for anyone.

    We are likely to end up with a replication of the Katharine Street/Park Street Minerva fiasco which, like Hammersfield, was based on a combination of overweening greed, unrealistic ambition and a very big raft of terminological inexactitudes happily swallowed whole by disingenuous councillors.

    • And that’s the really annoying thing… we’ve been here before.

      What was it Einstein said about repeating the same mistakes? It doesn’t take a genius to work that out…

      • And the Minerva fiasco has blighted the southern end of High Street for ages, shockingly right up close to the locus of all power in the town.

        If, as is highly likely, Hammersfield ends up the same way we will, at least, have some balance: the remnants of a real municipal mess at one end of the town, reminding us of the 20th Century, and another at the other end to commemorate the 21st.

        As Betjeman said of Slough: “It isn’t fit for humans now…”

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