Tony Newman, the leader of Croydon’s Labour-controlled council, wants the new Westfield supermall in the town centre – if it is ever built – to have “considerably less” than the 3,000 car parking spaces for which his own council has granted planning permission.
His apparent support for better environmental policies, prompted by the Mayor of London’s ULEZ (or ultra-low emissions zone, which was launched earlier this month), saw Newman trap himself into answering that he wanted the proposed £1.4billion Westfield scheme in Croydon to be “a sustainable development”, with “considerably less” car parking spaces than the currently proposed 3,000.
Newman’s public utterance represents probably his first expression of opposition or reservation about the Westfield project since the Tory-backed scheme was announced in 2012. The borough’s Town Hall politicians, red and blue, together with the Westfield-friendly chief exec, Jo Negrini, have spent most of the past seven years bending over backwards to accommodate anything and everything which the developers have demanded.
Indeed, it was Newman’s close mate, and fellow Woodside ward councillor, Paul Scott, who was chair of the planning committee which in November 2017 eagerly pushed through the permission for latest iteration of Westfield’s plans to redevelop the decrepit Whitgift Centre and the neighbouring Centrale.
Those revised plans (Westfield had already been granted planning permission for their large-scale project two years earlier) include nearly 1,000 “luxury executive apartments” perched in tower blocks over the gigantic car park and alongside the six-lane urban motorway that is Wellesley Road.
Little, if anything, was said during the planning committee discussion about the damaging effects on public health and the environment of emissions from motor cars being encouraged to drive in to Croydon’s town centre, where air quality is in any case already regularly in breach of European air pollution limits.
Which is why Newman’s apparently off-the-cuff response to BBC Radio London presenter Eddie Nestor had a whiff about it, though not of carbon monoxide, but of bullshit… as if the local politician was making things up as he went along in order to duck the broadcaster’s keen questioning.
It could also just be that any Croydon Westfield will indeed have considerably fewer than 3,000 car parking spaces. It could have none if, as is increasingly widely feared, the whole thing is abandoned.
In February, Westfield and their “Croydon Partners”, Hammerson, the owners of Centrale, separately announced that they were to “review” their plans for development in Croydon, further delaying a project which was meant to be open for business in 2017.
Newman says he has a letter from the developers, who are now known as Unibail-Rodamco Westfield, which assures him of their firm intention to go ahead with the project, despite the parlous, and worsening, state of the retailing sector, in the face of the shift to online shopping, Brexit uncertainties and a less-than-thriving economy.
But Newman has so far failed to publish the letter, unredacted, and neither he nor Sarah Jones, the Labour MP for the area who has had meetings with the corporate suits, have said how long the “review” might last for, nor given any indication of the revised date for demolition work to commence.
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