WALTER CRONXITE reports on the council’s latest, detail-lite announcement on the £1.4bn Hammersfield scheme
The council has finally started buying up the parcels of land around the Whitgift Centre, to allow work to begin on the £1.4billion Hammersfield redevelopment.
It is six years since the vast supermall and flats scheme was announced, and it is three years since a Government-appointed inspector presided over an inquiry to approve the terms of a Compulsory Purchase Order of a vast swathe of property in Croydon town centre.
“This is a big moment for Croydon,” was the deeply perceptive observation of Tony Newman, the leader of the council, who in his usual tautological style called the CPO “a key milestone for this project”.
Newman said, “As the CPO has now been implemented, developers can now start the process of submitting applications for the detailed designs of the centre ahead of starting on site and beginning demolition. Work will then commence on constructing a state-of-the-art shopping destination that not only Croydon, but London as well, will be proud of.
“A lot of hard work has been taking place to get to this point and there is still a lot of hard work to go but it’s great to see the Croydon Partnership continuing to commit to the development and I look forward to seeing work start on as site as well as the end result,” Newman (pictured right) said.
Newman’s “end result” won’t be open for business until 2023, at the earliest.
That will be more than a decade after what was then known as Westfield was forced into a shotgun marriage with rival mall managers Hammerson by the then Mayor of London, “Bonking” Boris Johnson, seemingly acting largely on behalf of the land-owners, the Whitgift Foundation, at the request of one of their governors, local MP Gavin Barwell.
As a consequence, the Croydon Partnership joint venture was formed between Hammerson and Westfield. Westfield has since been subject to a corporate takeover by French mall operateurs Unibail-Rodamco.
The council has this week begun issuing formal notices to affected premises under the CPO. Demolition work on the increasingly decrepid Whitgift Centre is not expected to begin for another 12 months, in September 2019.
The council issued a release last night which said, “This week Croydon Council issued notices to landowners and other affected parties that the CPO process was to begin, which enables the land acquisition process to complete and secures the rights needed for construction of the new development. This then allows the Croydon Partnership, the joint venture between Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield and Hammerson which is developing the project, to take possession of the site during 2019. The anticipated centre opening is 2023.”
Reassuringly for Council Tax-payers, the council confirmed that “the Croydon Partnership is funding all fees and purchase costs”. No figures for the amount of land being CPO’d, nor its cost, was released.
The town centre, through North End from West Croydon Station through to George Street, in between the two shopping centres, Whitgift and Centrale, has been looking increasingly tired of late, after six years of development blight has seen a number of traders pack up and shut up their businesses.
The new supermall, which will straddle the current Whitgift Centre (which was owned by the Foundation) and Centrale (which was owned by Hammerson), promises to include “more than 300 shops restaurants, cafés and leisure facilities including a multi-screen cinema complex”. In the past year, Hammersfield has revised its plans to be more reliant on residential redevelopment, almost doubling the number of “luxury apartments” to be built in towers along Wellesley Road to 1,000.
Also increased, from 5,000 to 7,000, is the number of jobs which the Partnership and council are boasting will be created – though still without anyone specifying what kind of jobs these will be.
“Securing all of the land and interests needed for the scheme is an essential part of the process that will lead to the redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre,” was the quote attributed to Steve Yewman, the development director of the mouthful which is now known as Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield.
“The redevelopment will deliver 7,000 new jobs for the people of Croydon and is a critical part of the wider redevelopment plans for the town centre,” Yewman said.
It was left to Hammerson’s project director, Carolyn Kenney, to address the matter of what will happen during the building works.
“We are working hard to ensure that a significant retail offer is maintained throughout the construction period by seeking short- and long-term solutions for businesses that would like to stay in the town centre such as relocations to Centrale or other locations in the town,” Kenney said.
“Ahead of start on site, our main focus over the coming months will be progressing the detailed design work and continuing discussions with retailers.”
And therein lies the rub.
Few have actually had an opportunity to see the detail of what the developers, under their altered, second iteration of the scheme, intend to impose on the borough’s commercial centre. Indeed, only last month it was reported that Peter Cole, Hammerson’s departing director, admitted that detailed designs haven’t even yet been started.
Just what surprises might they have in store? Or will Croydon be lumbered with the world’s most expensive pig in a poke?
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