The council has today issued documents that admit the era of big, shiny shopping centres is over and that the £1.4bn Westfield development is ‘unlikely to be implemented as consented’. Our unbuilt shopping centre correspondent, MT WALLETTE, reports
Less than a week after Tony Newman and Jo Negrini told private council meetings of their delight in receiving a love letter from Paris in which mall developers Westfield had expressed their “commitment” to Croydon (again), the council has today announced that it is looking for “design teams” to explore alternative options for the £1.4billion regeneration of the town centre.
This news was not announced to the people who Newman, the council leader, is supposed to represent, nor to the residents who pay the £220,000 per year salary for council CEO Negrini.
It was, instead, briefed to Negrini’s architect mates, through a trade journal.
It is, however, a hugely significant move, since it appears to signal the council’s (belated) acknowledgement that they need to have something in place because Westfield and their Croydon “partners” Hammerson are unlikely to deliver on a scheme which has been promised since 2012.
“Jo did say she had a ‘Plan B’,” a Katharine Street source said today.
“Clearly, she never really did, but now she has decided she better have a fall-back plan after all.
“This probably isn’t the council abandoning all hope that Westfield might finally pull their fingers out and start work on the development, but it certainly shows – at last – that the council recognises that it needs to be ready to do something, and soon.”
The debt-laden council is hardly splashing big money on what they are calling a “destination retail research study”, offering less than £20,000, and inviting tenders with tight deadlines of less than one week for pitches.
According to the Architects’ Journal, the study “will explore fresh options for a new phased redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre and neighbouring Allders department store”.
That there is no mention in the council’s announcement of Centrale, owned by troubled Hammersons, and which was to have been part of the overall regeneration project, may also be significant – demonstrating an abandonment of the grand scheme originally proposed, and a focus on those parts of the town centre which Negrini’s council has already spent millions on for the Compulsory Purchase Order and the work to assemble the packets of land.
Originally, the project was supposed to have completed by 2017. Westfield has now twice had applications granted planning permission, by the council and Mayor of London. The second iteration included 967 homes and more than 500,000 sq m of shops and restaurants in a new shopping centre, plus a hotel. It was given a planning green light in 2018.
It was February 2019 when Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) pressed the pause button on planned demolition work on the Whitgift Centre. In February 2020, the Paris-based developers dropped Croydon from their development pipeline altogether.
In the closest that Negrini, Newman and the council have ever come to admitting that they have failed to get the developers to deliver on their promises, the briefing document issued today states the council’s view that the Westfield scheme is “unlikely to be implemented as consented”.
And they explicitly admit that the age of the big, destination shopping mall is over, describing them as the “outdated model of a big retail box”.
The council’s brief states: “In early 2020, URW confirmed that Whitgift had been removed from its development pipeline. Therefore, the extant hybrid consent is unlikely to be implemented as consented. Discussions are in their infancy with the Croydon Partnership regarding a revised consent that seeks to introduce a new phased development approach, with a possible initial focus around the Allders building and a different complexion of uses that moves away from a traditional retail-led approach.”
The AJ reports, “The destination retail research study will look at alternative options for the prominent site which go beyond the previous ‘outdated model of a big retail box’. It is understood possible phased approaches could focus on retrofit, the opening up of new public realm routes through the area, and removing glazed roofs introduced in the 1990s.
“The report will also explore how the character, heritage and public realm of key areas in Croydon, such as the wider town centre and the out-of-town Purley Way retail zone, could be used to leverage new hospitality, food, beverage, entertainment, art, cultural, public and community uses.”
The report is to update chapters in the Local Plan, and a separate employment land review will “rethink” the Plan’s industrial, warehousing and office policies.
The council’s briefing document, written in fluent councilspeak, states: “Croydon Council is looking to appoint a multidisciplinary team to undertake a research study on the future of various types of ‘destination retail’. It is envisaged that the project will be led by a research focused urbanism [sic] practice working closely with a trend forecasting agency with experience in economic development and retail, and a commercial real estate agency with experience of the London [or] outer London market.
“Culminating in a comprehensive report with clear guidance on future trends, the study will focus on urban [or] town centre retail destinations, particularly in outer London (ie Croydon town centre), as well as ‘out of town’ big box retail and related industrial futures (eg Purley Way).
“The study will interrogate the current landscape (including the post covid-19 impact), relevant historical evolution of the industry and impact on cities and urban design, emerging and future trends and their impact on the resilience, vitality and design of urban centres and out of town destinations. Case studies, along with a focus on the Croydon landscape, will be integral to this.”
So, back to the drawing board really.
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