Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, the France-based international shopping mall owners, have given council leader Tony Newman “a very positive letter” about the company’s commitment to Croydon – despite having left the town centre in a state of development blight for almost a decade.
Newman, faced with the borough’s mountain of debt and a coronavirus cashflow crisis, is under pressure to deliver something – anything – to show for Labour’s six years in control of Croydon Town Hall, and to save his own political skin.
It was Dickens’ creation, Mr Micawber, who despite being on his uppers continued to harbour the delusion that “something will turn up”. Increasingly, Newman is turning into Croydon’s own version of Micawber.
Last night, at a virtual meeting of the council’s scrutiny committee, Newman spoke of Westfield’s “commitment” to the borough – even though the company dropped Croydon from its list of pipeline developments earlier this year.
It was 2012 when Westfield was partnered with Hammerson, the owners of the Centrale centre, to redevelop the whole of central Croydon in a deal brokered by the Whitgift Foundation, the major landowners, helped by the then Tory MP Gavin Barwell together with his party colleague, Boris Johnson, when he was Mayor of London. Then, a fully functioning shopping mall was promised in Croydon by 2017.
With the borough having been stood up, repeatedly, over the course of eight years, it appears that Newman is being suckered in by the developers once again.
In an email sent to Labour councillors this afternoon, seen by Inside Croydon, Newman says that he had received “a very positive letter in response to my one to them last week, received from Paris yesterday, re stating [sic] Westfields [sic] position to work with us in developing a new Town Centre.
“Although clearly we will rapidly need much greater detail of their proposed timetable in the new world we find ourselves in.”
So, basically, the property developers have told Newman nothing. Again.
Given the pandemic, there is huge uncertainty whether the “new normal” will have a place for high street retail in the form that was previously understood. Indeed, some major stores, such as Debenhams in Centrale, which closed for the lockdown will now never reopen.
Westfield has had two different planning permissions granted for their £1.4billion scheme, and at least one further iteration of the project since, although in February 2018 they opted to postpone indefinitely all demolition work. Any Westfield MkIV that might be brought to Croydon after the pandemic is likely to feature far less retail space and much more housing.
That Newman appears, once again, to be pinning the hopes of the borough on the whims of profit-hungry developers may be regarded as the witterings of someone who is desperately clutching at straws to save his administration.
Newman was due to have a meeting with the council chief executive, Jo “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini, earlier today to discuss the financial rescue plan being put in place to avoid the council going bust. With the borough saddled with £1.5billion worth of debt and having run down its reserves, Newman and his Labour council need a bail-out from the Conservative central government.
In his frequently incoherent email, Newman claims that the reputation of Croydon Council has been “enhanced” during the coronavirus emergency. “So many people who have never had dealings with [London Borough of Croydon] before are now doing so, and overwhelming [sic] reporting positive experiences.”
Newman wrote to the captive audience of his colleagues, “These are challenging and sometimes heartbreaking days, but they are also ultimately the most important of times in our recent history to be the elected representatives, of our local communities.”
As one of those attending tonight’s meeting remarked: “At some point, the Labour group needs to ask the question of how much longer we allow Tony to continue as leader – we can’t just carry on waiting for something to turn up.”
- If you want to support this kind of independent local journalism in Croydon, please sign up today as an Inside Croydon supporter. Click here for more details
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, or want to publicise your residents’ association or business, or if you have a local event to promote, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Inside Croydon is a member of the Independent Community News Network
- Inside Croydon works together with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and BBC London News
- Inside Croydon named Journalist of the Year at 2018 Anna Kennedy Online Autism Heroes Awards
- ROTTEN BOROUGH AWARDS: For three consecutive years, 2017, 2018 and 2019, Inside Croydon has been the source for award-winning nominations in Private Eye magazine’s annual celebration of civic cock-ups
- Inside Croydon had 1.6million pages viewed by 721,000 unique visitors in 2019