Crisis for Croydon as Westfield ‘reviews’ its £1.4bn scheme

KEN LEE reports on the seismic shock that has rocked the council

The artists’ impressions of the Westfield for Croydon will soon become regarded as pieces of fantasy fiction

Westfield today announced a decision to “review” the £1.4billion project to redevelop Croydon Town Centre, blaming Brexit and uncertainties over the retail sector.

In so doing, they  immediately claimed 2019’s No Shit Sherlock award.

The scheme to rebuild the ageing Whitgift Centre and link it with the Centrale mall on the opposite side of North End in Croydon town centre has been promised by Westfield and Hammerson since 2012. It was originally supposed to be open for business by 2017. There must now be serious doubts whether it will ever go ahead, despite some reassurances today from Westfield.

It is more than a year since Westfield were granted a second set of planning permissions – this time with a much larger residential element, with nearly 1,000 homes planned in five tower blocks to be built alongside the redeveloped shopping centre. And Croydon Council has completed its Compulsory Purchase of the land around the site.

The Croydon Partners, the joint venture formed by what is now known as Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield and property company Hammerson, are believed to have spent more than £300million so far just on preparations for the scheme.

Work was supposed to begin to demolish the Whitgift Centre this September, but last month even that was further delayed, and now the Evening Gideon is reporting a spokesperson for the developers as saying, “There are challenges surrounding the UK economic and political outlook and the structural changes facing retail have put some UK retailers under pressure.

“We are reviewing the scheme to ensure it responds to changing retailer requirements and is appropriate for the future.”

Inside Croydon raised the spectre of the impact of Brexit on the Westfield project as long ago as 2016.

Unmentioned in today’s newspaper report is the dire situation which Hammerson finds itself in at present, with its shares losing huge amount of value on the stock market over the past year.

The Gideon does quote a retail analyst saying, “I suspect the developers are now having second thoughts about both the choice of anchors and the major space users in the centre.” Which gets the silver medal in the 2019 NSS awards.

The newspaper reports that the Croydon Partnership, “insisted that it remains committed to the centre, which will have a John Lewis department store and a major Marks and Spencer branch, and still plans to open it in 2023”.

‘Our time is now’. Or maybe not: council CEO Jo Negrini

How they intend to achieve that on a project that now will not begin until 2020 at the earliest was not explained.

The review by Westfield is the latest huge set-back for the Whitgift Foundation, the borough’s largest landowners and the owners of the Whitgift Centre’s freehold. They have endured struggling rental revenues from the centre for seven years now, money which the charity would look to use for the running of their almshouses and private schools.

And it will be catastrophically worrying news for Croydon Council, for whom council leader Tony Newman has been an uncritical cheerleader for the developers’ plans, and where the chief executive, Jo Negrini, owes her position to Westfield’s over-weaning influence.

Last year, when asked whether Croydon has a “Plan B” for the town centre should Westfield pull the plug, Negrini somewhat casually responded “We’re not stupid.”

It is possible that Negrini will be forced into revealing her contingency plans, perhaps at an emergency meeting of the full council, if one can be summoned by the opposition Conservative group – who were, after all, instrumental in inviting Westfield into the borough in the first place.

Such a council meeting could be the only way to force the chief exec to be answerable to the borough’s elected representatives: Negrini has been refusing to answer questions about the on-going delays to the redevelopment for more than 18 months.

For its part, Croydon Council appears content to continue to sleepwalk towards disaster, while the town centre suffers a slow, lingering death.

A council spokesman told the Gideon: “We remain encouraged by Westfield’s commitment. Despite a fast-changing retail market and economic uncertainty related to Brexit, the council has delivered on finalising the land assembly and final compulsory purchase order process. We now look forward to Westfield announcing a start date for next year.”

“Encouraged”. So that’s alright then.


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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", Business, Centrale, Croydon Council, Jo Negrini, Tony Newman, Whitgift Centre, Whitgift Foundation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Crisis for Croydon as Westfield ‘reviews’ its £1.4bn scheme

  1. farmersboy says:

    No one saw that coming said no one ever

    Liked by 1 person

  2. John Cox says:

    Brent Cross is the other Hammerson plan that has failed in London.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. No surprise here, they are just using Brexit as cover. If they really thought that they could make money from this they would have started building long ago to get the profits rolling in. Meanwhile, the poor old Whitgift Centre gets shabbier by the day.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. farmersboy says:

    It’s Croydon. No disrespect but did anyone think the whole plan through, or was it just a Gavin Barwell brain fart. People who need to buy stuff go to Whitgift/Centrale/Purley Way if they live in Croydon. People in Surrey go to somewhere easier to get to by car, people in the rest of South London go up west on the train. No amount of marketing could make Croydon a go-to shopping experience

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Wickens says:

      Correct in part, but the increasing numbers of us that buy on line means we don’t go anywhere for a lot of our non- food shopping and even then Increasing numbers order their food shop on line.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, dear Editor, you are such a cynical soul.
    There are some very evident things that you just refuse to recognise. Why don’t you just reconsider and agree that:
    Westfield will be completed within three years from now and will be a resounding success.
    Brexit will be an easy and comfortable process,in the end, and we will all be better off.
    Arsenal will win the Premier League title and Crystal Palace the FA Cup.
    Jo Negrini and Tony Soprano will jointly announce that they may have made a mistake, just one.
    Stuart Collins will admit that his plans were rubbish.
    Jeremy Corbyn will become Prime Minister and will end up as the longest serving PM ever.

    These are all going to happen. Now I must stop typing and refresh my hallucinogenic potion.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Mule Croydon says:

    Insane parking charges, business rates and high rent will strangle the last breath out of Croydon’s sad retail offering. And when Croydon’s ailing retail environment is put out of it’s misery, replaced with a few notoriously “tax efficient” online businesses, what replaces the steady income to council coffers? Seems to me the calculation must be something along the lines of (fling up future slum) + council tax × 1000 = business as usual. What a great plan. If Croydon council is determined to glory in it’s future as a dormitory town for unskilled ancillary drones, then I for one, am offski…
    So long and thanks for all the pish.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. timbartell says:

    Meanwhile, I still can’t get to Wimbledon non stop because they provided for the development and my 433 route will be stop at Fairfield halls.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. greencroydon says:

    I seem to remember Hammerson purchasing Centrale with the idea that they would try and maximise its potential. Transform it into how retailers wanted a modern shopping centre and get all those voids used. Or so Hammersons said when they used one of the units for marketing and had plans and artist impressions on display etc. There was no Westfield at this point. I imagine that Hammersons wish they had just got on and done it now and not been baited into a partnership. They would have delivered by now and be reaping in rents.

    Liked by 1 person

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