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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Ruskin Square or Purley Baptist Church redevelopment? Which will be built first – if ever?
Well Ruskin Square is part-build already.
The Baptist Church development was halted by the Tories, who called it in to the Secretary of State. Despite the overwhelming need for mixed housing in the south of the borough, the decision on the scheme is now six months late.
Other property developers are having doubts about it, the retailers never seem to have been very keen. Croydon Westfield is getting more and more unlikely.
As sure a day follows night next year the Council Tax will go up. There will be a letter sent out by Newman saying how well they are doing but due to whatever reason an increase is necessary to fund essential services (Pensions, Councillor allowances etc etc). Ask him to justify anything in his letter and silence.
Meanwhile the leadership team will fail to deliver the projects that are necessary to develop and upgrade Croydon.
Never mind it is only public money they are playing with – nothing important
It’s all a bit rich. Schroders’ have owned this location for longer than the Whitgift redevelopment has been proposed and in all this time have only partially developed the site. It tells you a lot about how land banking does not ever seem to drain the resources of these endlessly resourced speculators.
So the drip drop of melting sentiment has been confirmed and the strategy of hiring “We’re not Stupid!” now looks virtually redundant. The stalling or mothballing of the large residential developments underway must be now be on the cards.
Winter is just starting.
In fairness to Schroders, the reason they have been around for so long is that they were stitched up by the council (under a previous Labour administration) which wanted to use their site for a large sports and entertainment arena. That had to go to a special legal hearing. Then along came the global financial downturn.
They have been loyal to Croydon throughout, if cautious with their investment.
“Business confidence” –“Consumer confidence”– “Consumer spending” — “High Street retail decline due to on line shopping”— are all so interllnked, What with on-line shopping,and Brexit, are we witnessing the end of central Croydon’s renewal?
I hope not. Ghost town for another few decades?. No oooooo!!!
The only hope must be yuppies buying flats in converted office blocks
I do hope that alongside the housing developments which the council tries to push as per their agenda, there will be a major development of the infrastructure as it is already a bit manic at the East Croydon station in the mornings not to mention a 3 week wait minimum at a local gp clinic.