Further Westfield delays put more pressure on CEO Negrini

It is six years to the day since Westfield and Hammerson said that, jointly, they would redevelop central Croydon. KEN LEE, our Town Hall reporter, on the increasingly beleaguered mood among senior council figures

Croydon Council’s chief executive, Jo Negrini, is coming under mounting pressure as it emerges that the long-promised redevelopment work on the Whitgift Centre will not begin this year after all.

Jo Negrini, the council’s £200,000 per year CEO: might she be considering her position?

Negrini has held the £200,000 per year role as the borough’s most senior civic servant since June 2016, but leading figures in Katharine Street have suggested that she may be  considering her position. Inside Croydon has twice in the past month given Negrini the opportunity to comment on such speculation; on each occasion, she failed to deny that this may be the case.

Today marks six years since the “marriage of convenience” between Hammerson and Westfield was announced over the redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre. Then, the shiny new temple to retailing was all supposed to be rebuilt and open for business by 2017. Now, no one appears to know when it might open, or even if it ever will.

Last June, Negrini and council officials were reporting that demolition work on the old shopping mall would begin in September 2019. At the Town Hall this week, that start date had been put back, at least until after Christmas.

Any further delays to the redevelopment of the town centre will be a massive blow to Negrini, the self-proclaimed “regeneration practitioner”.

Last year, when asked whether her council had a fall-back position in case Westfield decided not to go ahead with the scheme, Negrini responded, “We’re not stupid.” It seems increasingly likely that councillors from the majority Labour group as well as opposition Tories will soon be asking for Negrini to share with them what her “Plan B” really is.

Six years ago today at the Fairfield Halls, Boris Johnson presided over the announcement of the “marriage” in Croydon of Hammerson and Westfield

For although the “Hammersfield” development is a private scheme, the fate of the borough’s finances, and those of Croydon’s largest land-owners, the Whitgift Foundation, plus the state of the town centre, all now depend on some resolution of the development blight that businesses and residents have had to endure in the town centre since the glitzy announcement in the Fairfield Halls by the then London Mayor, Boris Johnson.

Australian-born Negrini has made, and staked, her career on Westfield. She arrived in Croydon as executive director in charge of planning and development just months after the Hammersfield deal had been sealed. Negrini’s previous job in Newham had seen her working closely with Aussie developers Westfield on their Stratford development before the 2012 Olympics.

But last year Westfield was subject to a £18.5billion takeover by French retail giant  Unibail-Rodamco. John Burton, Negrini’s fellow Australian who was Westfield’s development director in Europe, left his post soon after. And now Negrini is left to give less-than-satisfactory answers to Town Hall meetings about the uncertain prospects for the Croydon supermall.

Tuesday night’s council cabinet meeting saw council leader, Tony Newman, with Negrini at his side, unable to provide precise answers about when work will begin on the redevelopment scheme, which under much-altered plans is supposed to include nearly 1,000 flats as well as the shopping centre with John Lewis and Marks and Spencer as “anchor” stores.

What was noticeable this week was the apparent lack of any firm information from Negrini about when work might be expected. Newman was left floundering when pressed for answers.

Negrini has faced hostile Town Hall protests about her housing schemes

“I’m not sure that Negrini’s position has got any worse,” one Town Hall source said following that meeting, “although I guess it will if there are further problems with Westfield.”

The latest Westfield delays come on top of a host of poor decisions by Negrini in senior council recruitment since taking over at Croydon, while the run-down public services in the borough appear to be closer to the brink of collapse on her watch.

There’s been no great improvement in the children’s services department which has been under Whitehall special measures since 2017; Brick by Brick, Negrini’s brainchild, the unpopular house building company, has failed to build a single house since 2015; and rubbish contractors Veolia are struggling to meet the terms of their waste contracts, leaving mess strewn across Croydon’s streets like never before.

At the same time, the Negrini-led council has received stinging and continuing criticism from the Local Government Ombudsman.

And that’s not the only problem in Negrini’s in-tray in her Fisher’s Folly office. There is the mounting overspends on the £30million Fairfield Halls scheme, while the New Addington Leisure Centre – which typically ought to have cost less than £12million – is more than a year late and thought to be costing £25million. Both projects have been overseen by Negrini’s Brick by Brick housebuilders.

What with Croydon’s head of finance, shrewd accounts operator Richard Simpson, leaving his job (“He can’t take any more of this shit,” was what one Fisher’s Folly source told Inside Croydon), and Aussie mates like Burton departing Westfield, Negrini appears to be left with no one to cover her arse, apart from her increasing beleaguered staff.

Bluster: Tony Newman

On Tuesday, in the absence of any hard facts about when work on the Hammersfield project might start, Newman was left to resort to bluster. “The Westfield project with it’s new French ownership is looking very strong indeed,” he claimed.

“Are people looking hard at what is happening out there in the retail environment and what’s happening nationally at the moment? Yes they are. But in a very challenging retail environment Croydon is as well placed as anybody is at the moment both with projected future investments and retaining those stores we have.

“The council has absolutely delivered in terms of the planning process and the CPO process, so I think on any major projects there is always going to be some challenges.”


 

About insidecroydon

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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in "Hammersfield", Brick by Brick, Business, Centrale, CPO, Croydon Council, Jo Negrini, John Burton, Tony Newman, Veolia, Whitgift Centre and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Further Westfield delays put more pressure on CEO Negrini

  1. My shortest comment ever: Told you so!!!

    Like

  2. timbartell says:

    TFL are changing bus routes and the tram for a fantasy, let it go, let it go

    Like

  3. Lewis White says:

    Anxious Croydonian to fortune teller :
    “Brexfield is taking as long to get going as Westxit. Why ? Are they linked in some way ?””

    Fortune teller
    You are confused dearie, but the tea leaves see all !. They show a shape like cross with funny ends…….. on a sign ……..on a wall with some ancient Tudor brick building ….and some words…… “The Whitgift Foundation”.

    The leaves are swirling and I can’t see anything, but they might come to rest…….
    aha!

    A big shiny black front door in a nice Georgian house made of bricks that look in need of a good clean . You would have thought they could have afforded that ! The house is in a gated street On the door, some shiny numbers. A cat sitting on the doorstep, and policeman standing outside.

    Ooh–the door is opening, Out comes a young man –looks like a nice young teenager, but a bit bald, holding a cardboard box with some words on it… wait…. his hand’s in the way… it moves……

    ah ! I make them out now. N…A…N..D…O…

    Does that mean anything to you dearie?.
    Can I do anything else for you ? No? That’s no problem !

    That will be £ 50 thankyou, in ….. in gold sovereigns only.. Thanks .

    Liked by 1 person

  4. derekthrower says:

    The magical fairy tale of the Westfield development slips into 2020 without any explanation, other development projects are being delayed and public services continue to be neglected and deteriorate on her watch. The latest oversight disaster of the appalling services by the outsourced Veolia being the latest demonstration of ineptitude by her management team. There was only one ever rationale in employing a regeneration practitioner as a Chief Executive of a Local Authority. All she has ever provide is consistent degeneration. It is time to go Jo !

    Like

  5. Hatim Chakera says:

    Has she completed yet her odyssey to collect her phony awards, after paying Council Tax-payers money to be wined and dined and to buy advertising features in comics?

    Like

  6. danmitty4660 says:

    The Borough is a shambles. I used to work there.

    The management rarely changes – so they must be on a good deal. There is a constant churn of workers – the ones who hold the place together at the seams.

    For a Labour-controlled authority there is little evidence of any real innovative programmes to tackle inequality in our Borough. It’s all about spending money on drab and uninspiring “regeneration” projects – they deliver them, tick a box and leave them to rot. Look at the landscaping between the tram line on George Street and Wellesley Road. If they can’t make the flagship town center look smart, how will we encourage investors.

    The truth is Croydon can’t even get the basics right. We need a refresh of the borough’s members on both sides and a refresh of Council management. For any council managers reading this no this doesn’t need expensive consultants from PWC to tell you what to do. Use your common sense!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. It is becoming clearer by the day that the age of the giant shopping mall and department store is coming to an end.
    You only have to read the news with the constant stories of profit warnings and store closures. Use your own eyes, walk around the shops and notice how few people are actually buying things, then go home and see all the vans going up and down the road dropping off boxes of internet shopping.
    The future seems to be things like restaurants, coffee shops, nail bars, hairdressers, all things that cannot be done online, just look at Selsdon High Street.
    If I can see this, then surely all those clever people at Hammersfield who are being asked to put billions of their investor’s cash at risk can see it as well.

    Like

    • The alternative argument to this offered whenever we put forward this point of view is: have you visited Westfield at Stratford? Or Bluewater?
      Destination malls, the big ‘uns, still do the business, with their blend of bars and restaurants and the “retail experience”.
      But you are right, and that megamall model is now 20 years old.
      If Westfield Croydon is ever built, will it be fit for purpose for the next 20 years?

      Like

  8. Nick Davies says:

    Anyone who fancies a shopping precinct can get one to play with a quid:-

    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jan/17/scottish-shopping-centre-sale-postings-kirkcaldy

    Croydon died as a retail destination the day Allders shut. How much longer must we wait before the Whitgift gets flogged off for a quid too?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. if it follows its practice this far, the site will probably be bought by the Council for Brick by Brick at well over market price ( see Colonnades and a certain hotel in Central Croydon) and then lie undeveloped for ages so that its potential as a fly tip site can be fully utilised and then,when that has exhausted its revenue and publicity potential, finally developed as housing with fancy names like Nearly Affordable Towers, Affordable in Your Dreams Estate, Affordable If You Ignore Reality Community, Another Scott-Negrini Fantasy.

    Liked by 2 people

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