Our retailing correspondent, MT WALLETTE, hears Sarah Jones spouting the developers’ platitudes, while the council leader has so far failed to publish the full contents of a letter of assurance from the Croydon Partners
Sarah Jones, the MP for Croydon Central, is meeting today with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to discuss the increasingly concerning situation surrounding the stalled £1.4billion redevelopment of the town centre’s shopping centres.
It is the third high-level meeting over Croydon’s Westfield project which Jones has attended this week. On Monday she met the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, and yesterday held talks with the CEOs from Hammerson and Unibail-Rodamco Westfield.
Last night, Jones said that while the lengthy delays are a matter of “regret”, she was sure that the project is “very much on track”.
She also said that Hammond would himself meet with the companies involved to see what central government might be able to do to progress the scheme, which is already two years overdue in delivery. It is estimated to have cost Westfield and Hammerson around £60million, while demanding untold hours of work by officials at Croydon Town Hall.
Westfield and Hammerson, the developers who were first brought together in 2012 to carry out the rebuilding of the Whitgift Centre and its neighbouring mall, Centrale, both announced in February that they were postponing, indefinitely, the start of demolition work from this autumn, while they conduct a “review” of their scheme. Again.
The proposals to regenerate Croydon town centre have already been granted two separate sets of planning permissions, have been agreed by the government’s planning inspectorate, and has a council-funded Compulsory Purchase Order in place for a huge swathe of North End through to Wellesley Road.
But after seven years, still not a single brick has been laid towards providing the retailing nirvana of 300 shops, bars and cafés, a multiplex cinema, 3,000 car parking spaces, and nearly 1,000 “luxury executive apartments”. All of this supposedly delivering 5,000, 6,000 or 7,000 “new” jobs, of unspecified nature (depending on which piece of wishful propaganda the developers and council have chosen to put out this time).
Considerable concessions have already been made by the Mayor of London to enable the project to go ahead. Planning conditions such as the proportion of affordable housing to be provided and a £15million contribution towards improved transport infrastructure have already been relaxed or withdrawn altogether to reduce the developers’ costs.
Last month, Croydon council leader Tony Newman brandished a letter of reassurance from the now French-owned Westfield organisation, which mentioned the economic uncertainties in the retail sector (uncertainties which have been well known since 2011…), and Brexit.
Newman has so far appeared reluctant to share with Croydon Council Tax-payers the full text and content of his “reassuring” letter from Westfield.
And last night, Labour MP Jones put out a video on social media where she, too, parroted the developers’ platitudes, which were first offered when they made their announced to halt work on the scheme in February.
It is understood that Jones discussed the matter at a central London hotel with Christophe Cuvillier, the CEO of Paris-based Unibail-Rodamco Westfield CEO, and David Atkins, chief exec of Hammerson.
It is fair to state that Jones is dealing with a mess of her constituency predecessor’s making: it was Gavin Barwell, now the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, who using the influence of Boris Johnson first brought Westfield to Croydon to redevelop the Whitgift Foundation-owned shopping centre. Barwell at the time was a member of the trustees of the Foundation; Jones’s mother, a former head at Old Palace girls’ school, has also been a Foundation trustee.
Given the scale of the £1.4billion scheme, and its importance to the whole of the borough, it is perhaps surprising that Croydon’s two other MPs, Steve Reed OBE and Tory Chris Philp, did not join together with Jones for the URW talks.
Speaking on the day that Debenhams, one of the biggest tenants of Hammerson-owned Centrale, announced that they had gone into administration, Jones said on her video, “We know that they are having a look at the scheme, and having a review.
“But what I heard today very loud and clear was that they remain absolutely committed to Croydon, which is really good.” Which is nice.
“They just need to make sure they have the right fit of shops and other offers in the centre of town because we know the nature of retail is changing and we know there is a lot of economic uncertainty.”
What Jones doesn’t appear to know, since she did not mention it in her brief video, is how long the Hammersfield “review” is supposed to take, nor any revised date for the commencement of work on the site. Some are now suggesting that Brexit will be resolved before Westfield Croydon is ever built… so it could be a while yet.
* Updated on Apr 10 to clarify who was present at the meeting between Jones and Hammersfield.
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I like Sarah Jones and think she is an excellent MP. It’s just sad to see her being seduced and suckered into the futile morass of Westfield.
Just hoping and talking it up, Sarah, will not make it happen.
Even without Brexit looming Westfield was at best a lame duck from the beginning and, now, a dead duck.
The economy will flatline for a while whatever the outcome of the newest Brexit episode of Groundhog Day.
Once it recovers, which it never will fully, the whole retail scene will have changed beyond recognition and aspiring, ambitious, ostentatious, bling-infected Supermalls will have had their days and will have become the Dinosaurs of Merchandising.
The only thing we really have to look forward to is the winnings from a small bet on which will not happen first, Brexit or Westfield? Neither is going to happen, if at all, as originally conceived. If either happens to see the light of day it will be a pale, almost unrecognisable wraith of the golden path to Nirvana that our politicians, demagogues and developers promised us. Sorry for the mixed metaphors….
“Last night, Jones said that while the lengthy delays are a matter of “regret”, she was sure that the project is “very much on track”.” So this project is on a track? It must be stuck somewhere on the old Woodside line?