The council’s propaganda department has finally, a month after Town Hall heavies staged a dawn raid on the former Allders building, broken its silence over the forced closure of the Croydon Outlet Village.
On July 16, around two dozen small businesses were immediately and without notice denied access to their premises, rendered unable to trade for an indefinite period, when bailiffs armed with a council-issued warrant changed the locks and shut them out in a blatant land grab.
As many as 100 people depended on those businesses for their livelihoods, and so were effectively put out of work by Croydon Council.
Traders who had spent many years nurturing and building their companies were put out of business.
Yesterday, a council press release identified Paul Scott as the Labour councillor responsible for this jack-booted approach to local government, as it boasted that just six of those businesses affected by the closure of the Outlet Village have now, after four weeks, finally been found alternative premises from which to trade.
Those alternative premises happen to be in the Whitgift Centre, the increasingly shabby and down-at-heel shopping mall that has been waiting to be demolished by Westfield and Hammerson for more than seven years. Finding vacant premises in the Whitgift probably was not too difficult: trade magazine Draper’s Record this week described Croydon town centre as “a retail graveyard”.
Croydon Council has issued a Compulsory Purchase Order for much of the town centre to allow Westfield and Hammerson to redevelop the site of Allders, the Whitgift Centre and Centrale.
But the developers have stalled their £1.4billion project, with no dates announced for when demolition and construction work might begin.
Westfield and Hammerson were brought together as the Croydon Partnership in 2012 after interventions from the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and Gavin Barwell, the MP for Croydon Central at the time as well as a governor of the Whitgift Foundation, the owners of the freehold of much of the property in the town centre.
The Hammersfield scheme has already been granted two separate sets of planning permissions, but according to the Croydon Partnership’s latest utterances, they seem likely to want to redraft their plans once more, this time to include more office space and a hotel, as the widely predicted collapse of high street retailing has made building a vast shopping centre a less attractive proposition.
Despite the delays and uncertainties, Croydon Council did the multinational developers’ bidding last month to decant the tenants from the old Allders building after, according to the press release, “the council took possession of the former department store building in July, as part of the CPO process”.
As the council put it, having been shut out of their premises and prevented from trading for a month, six businesses have “… taken advantage of the support offered by Croydon Council and the Croydon Partnership”.
Bellamy’s Ice Cream, which previously enjoyed a prime position on a street-side site on North End, has been shunted into what the council describes as “a kiosk in Centrale”.
“A further 11 business [sic] have also agreed relocation units and licences are being completed,” the council release stated. “Discussions are continuing with six other concessions to agree suitable relocation space.”
The council claims that health and safety surveys of the Allders building “have identified a range of health and safety issues, which require further, detailed examination”. The council failed to elaborate on what these “issues” might be, but they did state, “the council and the Croydon Partnership will decide what works need to be undertaken to ensure the building remains safe for future use”.
This might be interpreted as suggesting that there is no immediate intention to demolish and re-build the Allders building.
Previous Westfield plans suggested that the historic facia of the building would be preserved, while a new interior on the prime corner site at the junction of George Street and North End would be given over to the John Lewis and Waitrose.
“Assistance for all businesses located within the former Allders building remains on offer,” the council smarmed, without offering any apology for failing to organise a smoother transition process, and so driving some traders to closure or the brink of bankruptcy.
“We thank the businesses in the former Allders building for their patience during what we know will have been a challenging and frustrating time,” was the best that could be offered by Scott for the land grab and the ill-thought-through scramble to re-locate some of the affected businesses, despite having had seven years to organise it.
Scott, of course, is the Labour-run council’s cabinet member for… ahem… planning.
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