Big business is getting twitchy over the slow pace of developments in Croydon, as KEN LEE reports
The agenda for the Croydon Labour group brainstorming weekend in Eastbourne this weekend is said to be “thin”. That may be deliberate to give council leader Tony Newman and his 40 councillor colleagues more time to ponder the impending disaster for the borough that could be caused by any further delays to the £1.4billion Hammersfield development.
As if worsening “Brexit uncertainties” were not enough to give big business the willies over whether or not to invest in schemes in Britain, here in Croydon the lengthening saga over the increasingly decrepid Whitgift Centre is forcing investors to consider carefully their own schemes.
Newman and his hired help, Jo “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini, the council’s chief executive, have spent almost five years talking up a supposed £5billion-worth of investment in Croydon, triggered by the Westfield-Hammerson super mall.
But there’s been talk of a Croydon Westfield for almost seven years, and still not a brick has been laid.
And this week, right here on Newman’s doorstep, one serious property developer warned that the delays over Westfield has made them rethink their own plans for Croydon.
Speaking at a panel at the Develop Croydon conference, staged in the now council-owned Croydon Park Hotel, Neil Meredith, the head of asset management at Schroders, said: “We have detailed consent for a second building and are ready to go, but I have made a decision not to go ahead until we have a tenant to take at least 50 per cent of the space.
“But I also think the building would start quite rapidly if we got clarity on the Westfield scheme.
“It isn’t great when you’re trying to let an office building, but if Westfield happens it will be transformational,” Meredith said.
Schroders are the money men behind the £500million Ruskin Square development, using a site often referred to as the gateway to Croydon, next to East Croydon Station. They have managed to ride out one (perhaps even two), financial downturns since they acquired the land, and with Stanhope they have managed to build one residential block, and offices, 1 Ruskin Square, which are occupied by HMRC.
But those offices were completed two years ago, and there has been no further development since.
Thanks to Meredith, now we – and, more to the point, Newman and his cabal of Alison Butler and Paul Scott – know why.
The Hammersfield development (or what is now more formally known by the mouthfull that is the Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield and Hammerson scheme) had its planning signed off by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan in January. Construction, according to the official line, is expected to start next year.
Delegates at the Develop Croydon Conference were being told that the start date will be “in autumn 2019 at the earliest“. Those are our italics.
A source close to the Ruskin Square scheme tonight told Inside Croydon that the delays to the Westfield scheme had made investor mood “very bad”.
“It slows down our plans, as Schroders said at the conference,” the source said.
“If Westfield in Croydon is scrapped, then it could take us back to square one again.”
Which ought to prompt a few interesting questions from Labour councillors for their Great Leader this weekend.
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