Desperate Newman needs Westfield Mk IV to save his skin

Will ‘something turn up’ for council leader Tony Newman?

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.

Only today British Land, a major owner of shopping centres and offices, wrote down the value of its own retail portfolio by more than a quarter due to the impact of coronavirus on its business.

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.”

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
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10 Responses to Desperate Newman needs Westfield Mk IV to save his skin

  1. But Tony has no need to worry. Don’t forget “We’re not stupid” has got a Plan B. Shame she refuses to share it with anyone.

  2. sebastian tillinger says:

    I just hope we get a new elected Mayor in place before Newman signs anything.

    Newman waiving a copy of an email exchange Neville Chamberlain-style is meaningless.

    If Newman has done the deal four years ago, we would have been in a different situation. Now all we have is the cost of Croydon Council compulsory Purchases and the signing over of prime Central Croydon land – this just reduces our Borough’s net assets and adds to our £1.5bn debt.

    Newman is deluded if he thinks Westfield has any intention of inviting John Lewis to a party in Croydon. Westfield and it’s new European partners is only interested in cash return and that’s going to be housing. Forget the shops.

    Westfields only current development happening in the UK at the moment is housing. It’s not retail. It’s the Cherry Park residential development in on Stratford.

    In Croydon, Newman’s given it all away, and the developer is now cherry-picking what he likes and out illustrious leader is pretending it’s with his blessing.

    • David White says:

      The proposal for a directly elected Mayor is a complete distraction. Putting even more power in the hands of one person won’t solve anything.

      • It wouldn’t be more power, David. It would be the same powers as are currently exercised, with no real accountability, by Newman and his clique.

        I agree that there is little real difference in the two systems of running the borough, and that a broader use of committees would be a likely real improvement. But in one fundamental way, Newman himself has created the demand for change: the democratically elected mayor would be elected by the whole borough, not just 40 Labour councillors who are in the leader’s pocket.

        When did Newman, or Butler-Scott, last even face a selection process within their own party to stand as councillors?

        Oddly, the article you have commented on makes no mention of the democratically elected mayor. You must have drafted your comment after attending last night’s Labour group meeting, which we shall be reporting on later today. Watch this space…

        • sebastiantillinger7694 says:

          Yes, I agree. The other difference is the elected Mayoral process has public engagement at its centre: candidates will engage in lots of public speaking, hustings, one-to-one interactions with the public and the media. These are skills Tony Newman does not possess. His skills are the back room deals and promises of expenses cheques.

          Newman will not even engage with this organ.

          • Ahh, but there you’re wrong, Seb. For at least three years, Newman regularly “engaged with this organ”, holding fortnightly briefing meetings in the Green Dragon pub across the road from the Town Hall, to provide us with a feast of well-based, but unattributed, news stories about how badly run the council was.

            Indeed, at one point, in front of witnesses, he offered the website’s editor a job to try to sort out the council’s wretchedly poor communications.

            And then he announced he was choosing to pursue a policy of “continuity” at the council and appointed the dodgy Nathan Elvery as chief executive…

  3. David Wickens says:

    Perhaps he sees himself as Prime Minister Chamberlain waving a piece of paper? Well we know how that ended. Time to concentrate on the provision of routine services rather than be preoccupied by developments/regeneration.

  4. Mike Buckley says:

    Dont we all want to see a proper new Whitgift Centre, but lets be real we are never going to see such a thing. Life has moved on, in part to Purley Wal and in part to the likes of Amazon. It would be interesting to actually see the letter from the possible developers as I dont believe there is any possible belief that it will actually happen in this decade – may be in 2050, but I wont be here to see it! (Neither I trust will Newman)
    Just look at all the vacant space above the shopping area – its tragic.How many living spaces could be created at much less cost than the build on green spaces/garages policy, along with where are they to park their cars once the garages have gone.

    For my money I see little wrong with Whitgift if all the retail spaces were in use. Its been improved cosmetically and, for me, it feels nice. OK we have the problem of empty Allders and now Debenhams, and this needs to be solved, though for the life of me I dont know how.

  5. Richard Sarbot says:

    Very Poor.

    Shopping Centres like these get bulldozed and remade into something special in the space of months in Asia. It’s a huge shame Newman and the other one keep making excuses and leaving those independent retailers who were promised a lot are now left with nothing. 10 years is a long time and I’m guessing online retail will be blamed, Covid will be blamed…etc….etc… Instead of blaming others, can’t they just accept responsibility, and give their salary back, and just get back to working hard????!

    Anyway , I have no faith left in Croydon and will sell up and move next year hopefully.

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