Westfield is ‘too little, too late’ to save Croydon town centre

With more than 1,200 empty units in the borough already, traders say that the development blight caused by lengthy delays by supermall operators has turned Croydon into ‘a retail graveyard’. MT WALLETTE reports

A shiny new Westfield shopping centre, promised to Croydon by Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London and “Lord” Gavin Barwell when he was still the local Tory MP, will be “too little, too late” to save the town centre’s rapidly declining retail offer.

Whitgift Centre 2019

The Whitgift Centre is a slowly decaying, little-visited shell of its former glories

That’s according to a report this week in trade magazine Draper’s Record, which describes Croydon town centre as “a retail graveyard”.

The town centre has been suffering development blight since 2012, when Johnson, Barwell, Westfield and their “Croydon Partners” Hammerson announced their intention to redevelop the town centre.

Two sets of planning permissions since, hiking the cost of the scheme from £1billion to the latest estimate of £1.4billion, and work on a supermall that was supposed to have opened in time for Christmas 2017 has still yet to begin.

Indeed, for the past six months, Westfield and Hammerson say that they have been “reviewing” their options, faced with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, the plunging value of the pound and the troubled retail sector as a whole.

Draper’s managed to get the Croydon Partnership to go on the record about their seemingly ever-lasting review of their Croydon plans for the first time since demolition work that was planned for this autumn was postponed.

“With the changing retail market in the UK, and shifting consumer demands, we are continuing to review the Croydon development to ensure it meets future needs,” the Westfield-Hammerson joint venture said.

“The objective is to increase the leisure and dining offers, with a hotel and offices also being considered in addition to residential.” There was no provision for a hotel, nor significant office provision, in the first two planning applications submitted for the redevelopment.

“We remain committed to the town centre, and believe that Croydon has strong potential with flagship destinations outperforming over the long term. We will continue to work closely with all stakeholders and remain part of the regeneration of the town. We are long-term investors in the area and to date have invested over £300million in Croydon including development and community investments.”

That £300million figure is reckoned to be the amount Westfield and Hammerson have managed to spend, between them, predominantly on various architects’ drawings and planning applications, and on their Partnership’s PR operation over the past seven years while manage to build precisely… zilch.

As Drapers reports, somewhat chillingly for other traders trying to operate their businesses in Croydon’s blighted town centre, “The Croydon Partnership has still not revealed how long the review will take, or offered a new date for construction to begin.”

Drapers also cites a Freedom of Information request by restructuring advisory firm Duff and Phelps which has found there were 1,269 empty retail units in the borough as a whole as of November 2018. The chances are that that number of empty units – in what council leader Tony Newman and Town Hall chief exec like to call “the growth zone” – has since increased.

There are record numbers of vacant retail units in the town centre

The magazine adds: “Independents said the vast number of empty units meant footfall had diminished and may not recover. ‘If the project is delayed again and not completed until 2023, Croydon will have deteriorated altogether’,” they quoted one store owner as saying.

“Croydon used to be so good, but now the high street is completely dead, and it looks like a poor, deprived area. It would be devastating if Westfield falls through because there are already vast numbers of empty retail units in the area and a distinct lack of footfall.”

Bakhtawar Budwal, the owner of family-run designer clothing independent Budwals, was quoted as saying, “We need work to start happening and for it to be completed as soon as possible so people can start coming back to Croydon. There are so many shops empty in the shopping centre and on the high street. Soon there will be no independent or big retailers left. The council and all these landlords should sit together and sort something out.”

Last month, when the council seized possession of the former Allders building, they managed to displace at least two dozen small businesses, leaving them and their 120-or-so staff nowhere to trade at all.

There is a widespread fear that smaller, independent traders based around the high street will be squeezed out of the shiny new Westfield mall, by higher rents and the big-hitting large chain operators.

Drapers quoted another independent store owner: “The Partnership said they’re going to include independent retailers in the plans, but no one has spoken to us about it.”  That, remember, is after a mere seven years…

Drapers was given a statement from the council press office which blithely ignored the businesses which were ruined by their own dawn raid on the Allders building.

“We don’t want to lose our independent businesses,” a council spokesperson said.

“They make up a large part of Croydon’s economy, and we support them in a number of ways including offering discretionary rate relief and access to low-interest rate loans available to businesses that may not qualify for loans through banks. We also work with businesses to ensure they get a space suitable for them.”


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", Allders, Business, Centrale, CPO, Croydon Council, Growth Zone, Jo Negrini, Planning, Tony Newman, Whitgift Centre and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Westfield is ‘too little, too late’ to save Croydon town centre

  1. derekthrower says:

    The blight effecting the once buoyant Croydon retail sector seems timeless. A decade after it commenced. Indeed even during the financial crash of 2008 Croydon had more retail activity than whatever is planned with the remnants of the legacy of Lord Barwell’s interference in the name of the Whitgift Foundation and alleged “public service”.

  2. David Hamilton says:

    Its very sad to say, but as it stands things look very bleak for Croydon. I desperately want to have some form of Westfield. I am all in favour of a smaller design with extra office and hotel space. Why not? We would be better off with half the size with full quality shops, than an oversized centre that will not be suitable for the low demand in five years time.
    Bringing in workers and visitors creates demand for whatever Croydon has left. With some joined up thinking with the other developments Croydon could still be rescued. Unfortunately there are no guarantees about this with this Councils record.

    • The “council’s record” on this matter, David, has been entirely supine, doing the bidding of the private developers, and look where that’s got us.

      • David Hamilton says:

        I am very inclined to agree with you. As a long standing supporter of Westfield I do feel very let down. And its not just the Labour council, it is and has been almost everyone involved in the process.
        Looking back it was always going to be a conundrum as to how Hammerson and Westfield would split things, not least of al decision making. Im certain this has not helped in the least. Also with Croydon Councils record, particularly with Brick by Brick, Croydon really does seem to think it is some sort of property behemoth, what with buying Croydon Park Hotel etc. It has been too much of a vanity project for people with little or no experience of projects this size. The result has been a complete standstill. God knows when or how they will get out of this.
        Sadly the Bradford prediction seems to be coming to Croydon.

  3. Lewis White says:

    It is hard to avoid a feel of total and terminal gloom when thinking of the way Croydon’s once bustling middle was, now some decades ago. I am sorry to sound so negative.

    The middle classes seem to have abandoned shopping in Croydon. Maybe they have all they need delivered to the door.

    The way forward ? I feel very sorry for shop owners, shop workers, landlords and everybody trying to make a living from bricks and mortar shops. It is amazing that we still have some good ones . How long can they hang on?

    The only hope must be for all the blocks of flats with planning permission to be built and occupied, and that the new residents spend their money in Croydon town centre.

    Hotels and dining ?
    Who really wants to come to take a holiday stay in a hotel in Croydon–unless they want to stay overnight then get a fast train up to the tourist hotspots of London?

    Honestly, who has the money to go out dining ? Has Croydon the sort of character that places like Chinatown and the Borough Market have, just 10 miles away? No.

    Only South End and London Road West Croydon have any sort of atmosphere, depending largely on the numbers of people in the streets plus the human scale of tyhe architecture. Sad that quite a few restaurants in South End have closed down recently. Can a whole town live by restaurants alone? No. It needs employment .

    Divert the Thames to flow through Croydon . That would be brilliant.

    Recipe for success ? Very very hard to say. …….. halve the size of Whitgift centre and Centrale and build more flats? The upper deck of Whitgift, even in the heady days when Elton John did a video in the then open air Whitgift— even then, the top deck was not very prosperous.

    I cannot help thinking that Croydon needs to have a number of small parks built as part of the Whitgift redevelopment. Greening may sound to be a non-earner, but sunny open spaces if well located can give a place a feel-good feel. Shady gloom does not. Ther old open air Whitgift was actually better.

    I would like to see students in the town centre. Why not move the Brit School into the centre, and get the Croydon college revitalised? Easy to say, hard to do, I know. Life , activity, is key.

    Finally, allow electric cars in to the town centre, and open up the high Street to buses again. Narrow the pavements , get a bit of life in again. Great as the tram is, trams impart a dead sort of feel to a city. Buses give it busy-ness and life. Hydrogen powered or electric not diesel.

  4. John O'Brien says:

    Another of Boris mayoral promises gone wrong. !

  5. Donald Baker says:

    Having moved on in life from Croydon and surrounds many moons ago (1954) I would imagine what was a bustling urban conurbation has been totally ruined by the developers

  6. Will Howlett says:

    Maybe a leaf could be taken out The Bussey Building in Peckham and the existing building repurposed to house pop up eating spots and family friendly bars etc. Allow more unusual independent businesses to put their own stamp on the place (isn’t there a video game arcade in there at the moment? More of that thing a la Four Quarters) and make it a place that all the affluent young trendy families that have moved in along the Overground would be happy to travel up to visit

  7. Julian Sadler says:

    And in 1999 when Tramtrack Croydon Ltd were looking for a town centre outlet there were (briefly) no vacant shop units to be had.

  8. Karolina Slater says:

    Obviously it is disappointing and I don’t think the Drapers’ ‘report’ is any report at all. The truth is that despite the Croydon Town centre looking tired and the shopping offer being limited, it is still a busy place, and a busy place means potential shoppers. I think that looking at both Westfields in Stratford and Shepherd’s Bush we can see that the future is not there (especially that when you do go to physically shop, the shops don’t carry the full offer or sizes and they send you back to the website, so no wonder). It also doesn’t help when a lot of products look better online than they are in reality. More offices, leisure and dining facilities, and hotel would be just what is needed in Croydon, especially being so close to Gatwick airport. I just hope there will finally be some progress with this project as so far the Croydon Council has shown no ability to get this transformation started.

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