Town Hall reporter KEN LEE on the latest non-statement on lack of progress from the council leader
Is Tony Newman, the leader of Croydon Council, panicked by the lack of progress over Westfield’s long-promised £1.4billion redevelopment of the town centre?
Certainly, a tweet Newman sent out this morning, despite his usual nuclear weapons-grade incoherence, seemed full of distress signals.
We quote Newman’s gibberish here, verbatim:
“Welcome letter re our next meeting from @urw_group stating Westfields clear commitment to & @yourcroydon as a ‘flagship scheme for the company’ in terms of timing letter recognises ‘Brexit Uncertainty’ & challenges re the UK ‘political outlook’.”
We’ll leave our loyal reader themselves to try to decipher what Newman was actually trying to say.
Curiously, Newman attached to his tweet some pictures of random sections of a letter, apparently sent to him by Unibail-Rodamco Westfield.
Was this Newman’s attempt at having a Neville Chamberlain moment: “I have in my hand a piece of paper… Peace in our time”?
Indeed, from what can be seen of the letter from Unibail-Rodamco Westfield, the now French-owned mall operators, it actually offers little more than the platitudes and lukewarm assurances that were issued a month ago, when the company announced that they were to “review” the Croydon scheme. And they have become no more convincing, or reassuring, with the passing of time.
Of course, Westfield is only one half of the “Croydon Partnership” which has been inflicting development blight on Croydon town centre for the past seven years. Hammerson, the other half, have also expressed reservations about the project, in the midst of their own serious corporate financing problems, as well as the retail downturn and the catch-all cop-out of “Brexit uncertainities”.
Newman failed to mention whether Hammerson, too, had inspired him with confidence in their “commitment” to Croydon.
For all the faux confidence Newman attempted to imply in his tweeted message, other straws in the wind from the Town Hall betray growing doubts at the council about Westfield and Hammerson’s intentions.
The past week has seen the distribution of Your Croydon, the 24-page quarterly magazine produced by the council using your Council Tax. It contains not a word about the redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre, which not so long ago was regarded as the single most important project in the borough’s history.
The magazine has the obligatory puffery from the council leader’s column. It has not a single word about Westfield.
There’s even a double-page spread feature under the bold headline “Our Growing Town Centre”.
And there, among all the developer-friendly copy about “cranes rising up across Croydon town centre”, detailing this tower block or that office scheme, you can see on the schematic map the old Whitgift Centre in the middle of all this activity. But not a word about the demolition work which was supposed to have started on the shopping centre this autumn, but which has now been postponed, indefinitely.
It seems very likely that Newman this morning felt shamed into making some public gesture of his own importance to the project, because of events at City Hall last week.
There, Steve O’Connell, the Conservative London Assembly Member for Croydon and Sutton, raised the stalled Westfield project with London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
The Mayor promised to intervene. It very much sounded like Khan is about to go over Newman’s head.
“The Greater London Authority and Transport for London continue to work closely with Croydon Council to ensure that the required infrastructure is delivered at the right time,” Khan said, as he gave an undertaking to have a meeting with the developers.
Tony Newman might get an invitation to tag along, too, if he behaves…
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