Mothercare is the latest large store to quit the Whitgift Centre, as the continuing uncertainty over the shopping mall’s future is making business increasingly tough for the few traders forced to remain.
The large mother and baby store closed its doors in the Whitgift for the final time on March 31, the management evidently giving up on the slowly declining trade and poor state of the centre.
What’s left of the mall’s independent retailers and coffee shops find themselves stuck between a rock and a CPO hard place, forced to continue paying rents and high business rates despite the reducing number of customers visiting the Whitgift. If they leave now and cut their losses, traders risk losing out on the cash pay-outs promised by Croydon Council when they began the Compulsory Purchase Order process on behalf of the developers.
Westfield and Hammerson, the two shopping centre operators who together as Croydon Partners are supposed to be conducting a £1.4billion redevelopment of the Whitgift and Centrale malls, have had planning permission in one form or another to pursue their project for more than five years, since February 2014. The latest scheme provided for more than 300 shops, bars and cafés, a multiplex cinema (another one), a 3,000-space car park and nearly 1,000 flats on the site.
But both multi-national firms have recently announced that, in light of the desperate state of retailing on the high street, they are to “review” the scheme, with demolition of the 1960s-build Whitgift Centre planned for this autumn now postponed indefinitely.
In what appears to be a final scene in an unfolding Beckett-like tragi-comedy entitled Waiting For Westfield, Croydon Council is scrabbling around trying to cobble together something, anything, to deliver up to the commercial developers some sort of excuse not to pull the plug once and for all.
Overtures have been made by the council to the Home Office to relocate in commercial offices which were not included in the latest iteration of the developers’ plans, while the council’s £200,000 per year chief exec, Jo “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini, spent a week in the south of France to make the announcement that the lowly ranked South Bank Poly has been invited to set up a campus in the town centre, too.
None of which, of course, will provide any immediate relief to the traders still based in the Whitgift Centre, and who have been enduring development blight on their businesses since Boris Johnson, when Mayor of London, together with the then Tory MP, Gavin Barwell, imposed Westfield on Croydon in 2012.
A report in the latest edition of the South London Press says, “Those suffering are the permanent traders in the shopping centre who continue to pay business rates despite working in a derelict building”.
The paper quotes sales assistant, Bini Ali, as saying, “Every year there are less and less customers. This Christmas was really bad.”
Independent traders such Rico Caleap, of Classic Café, are caught in a dilemma which they say has been caused by the council. “It is not fair… We can’t sell the business, we can’t go, we can’t stay. It’s horrible.
“60 or 70 per cent are closed down, it looks like a ghost town.”
Another trader, Denise Delicata, who has run a picture framing business in the Whitgift Centre for 18 years, told the SLP: “It’s blighted, there’s nobody coming in here at all.
“We’re just lucky we’ve got regular customers that are keeping us afloat.
“If anybody new does come here they are absolutely disgusted and they’re never coming back.”
Other traders have confirmed that they dare not move their business now, because they will not qualify for compensation under the council-run CPO scheme. “If we go because we decide to go then we don’t get a penny,” one said. “Some of us are just holding on.”
In a CPO process that was begun, at the developers’ request, in 2015, increasingly the question many of the independent traders caught in the middle are asking themselves is: how much longer can they hold on for?
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Westfield is Croydon’s answer to Brexit.
There are some bright spots in the Whitgift Centre, with great staff selling good products.
These enterprises deserve our support.
I feel that there is just too much mall type shopping in Croydon. It needs to be reduced by around 33%, in my view, to match the demand in today’s world where much of the older population has all the material goods it needs, people buy a lot on line, and where smaller houses and flats give far less space for furniture and wardrobe space for clothes.
My guess is that huge numbers of Suburban over 50 year old Croydonians stay indoors, only going shopping to the local supermarket, or traveling to places like Ikea and Purley Way retail stores by car, and never venturing out into the “Big City” of central Croydon.
How–if at all- can these folk be persuaded to come back into Croydon? Or will they go into Bromley, Wimbledon, Kingston and Bluewater come what may?
Unlike most of London’s historic shopping areas, where small shops still line the streets, Croydon is dominated by the two malls of Whitgift and Centrale.
We haven’t got the character shops of London’s West end. — perhaps because Croydon is not as rich as West London, and far fewer people live in Central Croydon –as yet— than residential areas of West London. I sincerely hope that the new flats in the high rise blocks in the middle of Croydon will attract a new breed of Croydonian, who likes inner town living, rather than suburban life with 3 cars and a patio.
It takes months or even years for people to get the habit back, once they have deserted a shopping area.
One way the Council can really help is by making the public realm better-looking. The Council’s urban designers have done a lot of good work in this area, such as Lower Addiscombe Road and London Rad W Croydon. But we need more investment, in areas like South End Croydon–not the restaurant area, but the inner part from Katherine Street down to the Coombe Street lights. This is the main gateway to Croydon from the South, but looks grey and boring.
A drab and dirty street is not going to encourage people to come to Croydon, then linger and spend their hard-won crust. Entrances and introductions count for much.
Multi storey car parks –ugly and pricey– therefore need to be lovely ,
But people living in the middle– that is the best lifeline — as long as these people have money to spend in the shops and cafes.
Sorry if I have said all this before in Inside Croydon. Spoken with concern. And some hope too.
Ms. Negrini can only be holding out for the next pay cheque in the hope that she can get away with not actually doing anything for it. Worst of it is, we are letting her do nothing whilst paying her handsomely for the pleasure.