Westfield letter that Tony Newman didn’t want you to see

The Westfield letter Tony Newman didn’t want you to see

Croydon Council tried to cover-up a letter from the CEO of Westfield to the council leader that warned of “the deep structural changes currently facing retailers… illustrated by the growing number of bankruptcies, CVAs and retailers announcing declining financial results”.
Today, Inside Croydon publishes the letter in full for the first time

After a nine-month battle, Croydon has been forced to release a letter from Westfield to the council leader, Tony Newman, which delivers a significantly different view of the prospects for the £1.4billion redevelopment of the town centre taking place than Newman’s numpties at the Town Hall would like you to believe.

The letter, dated March 20 and signed off by Christophe Cuvillier, the group chief executive of Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, is in response to an appeal from Newman for some reassurance after the property developers announced in February that the entire scheme was under “review”. Demolition of the Whitgift Centre was supposed to have begun in 2019.

Newman himself published part of the letter when he received it – tweeting claims that it showed the developers’ “clear commitment”, while repeating one of the reasons given by Westfield and their partners, Hammerson, when announcing their “review”: Brexit uncertainty.

Newman’s tweet omitted to mention the dire state of the retail sector. Cuvillier’s letter, now published for the first time by Inside Croydon, does not.

Tony Newman’s tweet back in March. His council has spent the past nine months trying to stop the letter being published in full

Not unreasonably, given the massive amounts of public money at stake and the impact of development blight on Croydon town centre since Westfield and Hammerson announced their joint venture in 2011, one resident sent a Freedom of Information request to the council asking for sight of the whole Westfield letter – and not just the bits that Newman thought he could pass off as good news in one of his poorly drafted virtue-signalling tweets.

From the start, the council tried to block the release of the full contents of the letter, even breaking the law to do so.

It was June before the council provided a substantive reply to the FoI request submitted more than two months previously. This did not provide the information requested, but instead announced that for some unexplained reason Town Hall lawyers would treat the information request under Environmental Information Regulations.

It was clear that the council was stalling. It even delayed a response for an internal review by longer that is allowed by law. The council tried to claim this was “due to the need for additional time to discuss public interest test considerations with the relevant departments”.

The matter was referred to the Information Commissioner, and after another six months, once the government official had stepped in, the council was finally forced into releasing the letter in full this week.

URW’s Christophe Cuvillier: provides a frank assessment of the economics of shopping malls, which Newman tried to cover-up

The letter from Westfield is far from the overwhelming vote of confidence in Newman and his council that the Labour leader tried to hoodwink the public into believing.

It is noteworthy, despite the claims made by the council, that the letter was in some way “commercially confidential”, Cuvillier himself at no point in the document makes any request that his comments should be withheld from the public.

Cuvillier states that “Croydon is a flagship scheme for the company”. But then, Westfield undoubtedly said much the same about their Bradford scheme, before leaving a vast hole in the town centre for a decade, undeveloped.

In his letter, Cuvilllier re-states some of the already well-known matters of public record about the Croydon scheme – John Lewis, Marks and Sparks, the council’s work on the vast CPO (which is being paid for out of Croydon’s Council Tax).

But it is easy to see quite why Newman tried for months to keep the full text of Cuvillier’s letter out of the public domain. For Cuvillier states, quite baldly: “There remain, however, significant challenges as regards the UK economy and the political outlook in the near future.

“This is compounded by the deep structural changes currently facing retailers, as well as the increasing impact of business rates on the UK high street and shopping centre retail property. It is illustrated by the growing number of bankruptcies, CVAs and retailers announcing declining financial results, in addition to Continental European retailers suspending plans to expand into the UK because of uncertainty linked to Brexit.

“Given this backdrop, it is our responsibility to review the scheme to ensure it responds to changing retailer requirements and is ready for the future. We recognise that Croydon has very strong potential with flagship destinations outperforming over the long term, and deserves the best configuration going forward. The team remains hard at work to bring the development forward.”

Tony Newman: for nine months, his council covered up the Westfield letter, even breaking FoI law to do so

Cuvillier offered to be in touch for further meetings, and indeed, Newman and council officials met with Westfield in November – potentially breaking purdah before the Fairfield by-election, too.

But, 10 months after the “review” was announced, there’s been no new start date for development work to begin. There has been some suggestion that Westfield might yet submit a revised planning application – their third – which will further reduce the retail element of the scheme, bringing in more residential, office and hotel space for the site. Yet with each passing week, there’s further news of “the growing number of bankruptcies, CVAs and retailers announcing declining financial results”.

Trading figures for this latest Christmas period seem unlikely to reverse those trends.

With the developers themselves painting such a gloomy outlook for the scheme, it appears that Newman nonetheless used this letter to try to mislead the Croydon public over the prospects for the Westfield redevelopment. The council then repeatedly broke the law to delay and withhold the letter’s publication.

In the end, though, even Newman and Croydon Council are accountable to the law, and they were forced to back down from their efforts to cover-up the letter.

And to think that Newman once stood on a manifesto pledge to preside over the most transparent and open council in Croydon’s history.

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", Business, CPO, Croydon Council, Planning, Tony Newman, Whitgift Centre and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Westfield letter that Tony Newman didn’t want you to see

  1. As Greta Thunberg says, with great accuracy, “Listen to the Science”.

    We should do the same with Westfield. All science shows that it is impossible to revive a dead duck and specially one that was terminally ill from its conception.

    Don Antonio and his colleagues look more and more like the orchestra playing as the Titanic sinks, desperately hoping the noises they make combined with ignoring reality will make things different. They won’t.

    Happy New Year to you all too!

  2. It was reported this morning in The Times that retailers have had their worst Boxing Day sales in a decade with numbers of shoppers down by 10.6%. It is clear that they cannot compete with online retailers. The prospects for any large retail development are not good. If everyone involved admitted that this development is dead in the water then perhaps they could come up with some cunning plan to do something rather than doom Croydon to another 10 years of (terminal) decline.

    • David Mogoh says:

      It looks like typical powerful developer speak to me. “Yes of course we still like Croydon and we still want to build there…. but… well, you know, shops aren’t so popular these days.. and you need us more than we need you… so… WE’LL DEMAND WHAT WE PLEASE AND YOU WILL BEND OVER BACKWARDS UNTIL WE GET IT”.
      Similar type of tone to the developer’s email for the proposed Purley development uncovered here on inside croydon a few weeks ago – just on a larger scale.
      I expect a 3rd planning application from Westfield with more flat$$$ and just about anything else they fancy. Ca$ino$ perhaps? And they will be approved. Westfield hold all of the cards and don’t they know it.

      • I agree with all that David says.
        It’s an odd conjunction but Westfield is going to be our Tony N’s, the Don’s, Brexit albatross, just as it is for the abominable Boris. The task of implementing an unworkable or unfeasible policy to which you gave birth, and about which you have to keep on bleating and trumpeting with increasing hysteria and diminishing veracity, is likely to wreck both careers in time.

      • Lewis White says:

        I hope no casino. They do nothing for regeneration. An Aldi or Lidl would do more.

        Margate got one a few years ago. I did precisely zilch for regeneration.
        But the Turner gallery did the trick.

        Casi…NOOO !!!!

  3. Sadly there is no surprise there. At least the professionals at Westfield recognise the reality of the situation. They would though, they are risking their shareholder’s money and their jobs are on the line, unlike Newman and his chums.

    • Mick Vincent says:

      not only this council the ones before it as well, the high street is a dead duck nowdays

      • David Mogoh says:

        I don’t agree that high streets are dead ducks.
        Some high streets are heaving with people. It’s about the experience on offer, locality, etc.

        It’s a bit like how video was supposed to kill the radio star. Radio is still a very popular and lucrative medium. In particular, it’s a lot more difficult to “avoid” adverts on the radio. Whereas with TV we can just forward wind through them.

        I love the convenience of ordering online. I also love the experience of going to a shop and seeing, touching, trying on products and taking them home in a bag.

        I expect there to be far fewer “shopping places”. Much less small high streets replaced with fewer but much larger complexes with a range of shops, eatieries, entertainment etc.

        Whether Westfield follow through with Croydon remains to be seen. But I’ve no doubt they make a hell of a lot money from the other Westfields in London and are rubbing their hands at the prospect of Croydon. They just need to push the Council in to as tight a corner as possible to get what they demand.

  4. mraemiller says:

    Of course bricks and morter retailers can compete with online. But firstly they need to multichannel (is it a wonder Allders went bust when you could buy none of its products online?)…. And secondly differentiate and offer an experience. Online is gone until you have to wait in all day, find Yodel have given it to a neighbour or dumped it somewhere weird and/or you try to make a refund or return and have to hang on the phone forever and be given the run-around…

  5. sebastiantillinger7694 says:

    There’s been a dramatic shift in shop based retail. Smart companies and organisations are on top of this and planning ahead, anticipating change. The really smart ones are driving change itself.

    And they we have Croydon Council.

    Tony Newman is completely out of his depth re Westfield and strategic development on these key central sites – he simply does not have the knowledge, calibre or vision to represent the borough in these negotiations and surprise surprise they are unravelling.

    The Council have made a number of compulsory purchases. What happens now? Knock-down retail or board the buildings up?

    Or what about building housing? Dense, city housing but well designed with great green spaces? Now that would take vision and a real character to drive it through. Tony Newman? Er, no.

    It would also need a great visionary design. Who does Tony Newman appoint as our borough Design Champion? You’ve guessed, Paul Scott.

    Last person out, please switch off the lights.

  6. Colin Cooper says:

    If retail is so dead, how come Bromley is still such a vibrant shopping centre? Oh wait, could it be you don’t need a second mortgage to park for a few hours and the local Council haven’t banned the use of anything but public transport to get there?

  7. Lewis White says:

    I agree with David Mogoh, that the high street (in our area at least) is not dead.
    Here in Coulsdon, the vast majority of small shops are occupied, and the two supermarkets Waitrose and Aldi are always well-populated by shoppers (note– these are NOT mega stores, but are sensible “not too small, not too big” stores) .
    There are several cafes and lots of barbers, hair dressers, nail bars, and a range of specialist shops.

    No doubt some of the retailers are finding times hard, but the overall feel is quite busy and positive.

    My concern is that the council polices are still “anti car” as it — in spite of the fact that cars are going electric, and therefore not polluting the streets. Shoppers come to Coulsdon by bus, on foot and by car. Capacity will be reduced when the Lion Green Car park site is redeveloped in large part for housing.

    With regard to our local scene, we are fortunate to live in the London area which has plentiful employment. Local centres in London seem to be reasonably prosperous, particularly where Councils have invested in making the centres more attractive, with attractive paving , lighting, greening and street furnture, such as Sutton has done with Wallington, and Croydon has done with Addiscombe , Coulsdon, parts of Purley, and other areas like Broad Green .

    My observation is that Croydon needs to make the very drab South End of Croydon similarly attractive, as this area (from Katherine Street , to the flyover, and down to Combe Road) is a public realm disgrace. Grot’s the word. Treeless, with dirty tarmac pavements, his is THE off-putting gateway to Croydon for thousands of residents living in the South of the brough.

    If this is the introduction to Croydon , it must put many people off bothering to visit the town centre.
    It is also very unfair for the businesses located there — the streetscape is so bad, it drags them all down.

    Thinking of the Westfield project, I sincerely hope that they will build a good mix of shopping and residential –with open air sunny mini parks or squares.

    People are now probably getting bored with staying indoors, ordering stuff on the Internet, and getting sad and lonely and fat. The High Street provides the solution–busy-ness, with people and a nice sunny open air place with shops and cafes to pop into.

    So–if Westfeld play their cards right, and avoid building justa nother boring indoor mall, they might just hit the building wave of real people going out, into the public environmnet, to meet people and do real shopping. It might be like the best High Streets. I really hope so.

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