Back to the drawing board for new plans for the Whitgift Centre

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

Never happening: one of the more aspirational CGIs put out by Westfield when they said that they were going to redevelop Croydon town centre

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.”

Hands up: Jo Negrini may have finally admitted she has been wrong over Westfield

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.”

Tony Newman: a week after claiming to have URW’s commitment, his council is seeking alternative plans

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.

For the full archive of Inside Croydon’s “Hammersfield” coverage, click here


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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
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9 Responses to Back to the drawing board for new plans for the Whitgift Centre

  1. sebastiantillinger7694 says:

    £20k to solve Croydon Centre’s problems?

    That’s what Negrini and Lacey spent on drinks at the MIPIM Real Estate jolly in the South of France a couple of years ago when they were attempting to big-up Croydon’s centre.

    That failed disastrously.

    Negrini, Scott, Newman should not be allowed the opportunity to mess this up again.

    Why not make the budget £200,000, forget all the hangers-on at the Architects Journal and give a direct commission to Renzo Piano, the world renowned Italian Architect to come up with a built form feasibility. The would begin to put Croydon on the Map.

    • Lewis White says:

      If only a Croydon -born Gaudi appeared, to truly transform Croydon to become the Barcelona of South London. The trouble is, would he or she ever get commissioned by the Council?

  2. Lewis White says:

    I hope that the Council will come up with a genuine, acheivable plan to make the developers of all new industruial and retail sheds, –and indeed, the new Whitgift Centre– have solar panels on top. Plus retrofit the existing ones. Has anyone from Planning gone up to stand at the highest points on the Upper Norwood mountains (near the ITV aerial) and looked out over North Croydon, and registered the the enormous acreage of totally bare metal roofs of the Purley Way/ Beddington lane industrial estates.? You can see these from Google Earth view, as seen by satellite.

    I would love to know how much electricty could be generated from such an intitaive. I think the answer is…. a very great amount.

    No doubt, it is all up to central gocvernment to make the rules. If so, they should be doing that.
    But if we are really looking at the redevelopment of Purley way, this question of energy generation through solar needs to be looked at properly. To not do that would be an enviro crime.

    While they are at it, the area hardly has a single tree. If someone had planned the area properly, we could have had treelined frontages for every industrial unit. Industry does not have to be ugly. A worknig landscape does not have to be a grey one– It can be green as well as comercially productive. Again, that is the fault of Governemnt, who should be setting out simple green yardsticks for trees and industrial sites.

    We need an industrial Greening Act in my view.–to encompass solar, trees, and sustainable drainage to get all that water off those huge roofs back into the aquifer.

  3. pwrapurley says:

    Another use for the Whitgift Centre site?How about The John Whitgift University? Much talk over many years for a proper Uni in Croydon.

  4. David Wickens says:

    On May 26 you reported that Negrini had stated that there was a freeze on all non-essential expenditure. Whilst the Whitgift redevelopment is important for Croydon, spending £20,000 at this time of a cash flow crisis would hardly seem essential. They really do need to concentrate on essential services rather than employing consultants to draw pretty pictures.

  5. Where have all these research focused urbanism practices and trend forecasting agencies been for the last couple of years? It must have been obvious to anyone that this was the inevitable outcome.

  6. David Squires says:

    I’ve been saying it for a while now that the final result will most likely be a street comprised of shops facing onto the current pedestrianised area. The Whitgift Centre will be bulldozed and replaced with apartments/offices. Look at the volume of properties Croydon Council want built on the Purley Way. Having the opportunity to add a few thousand more homes in the centre of Croydon will be a dream come true for them.

  7. Lewis White says:

    I would certainly support the idea advanced above by David, for a street with offices, shops and residential, and I think also with cross-streets connecting with the pedestrianised High Street, but I hope not in inhuman, higher-than-high-rise blocks like those now rearing up near East Croydon Station.

    There is no Medieval street pattern to reinstate, as far as I know, as the site was the Middle Whitgift School (imagine Hogwarts set in a some lovely playing fields).

    Sadly, I think there is no chance in getting a big new park, but I think that a series of open , sunny, sheltered town squares could be designed in to the new steet network, to bring open air and sunshine, and cafe terraces for Croydon’s (post covid) cafe society to re-emerge.

    This mixed use with human scale streets is what much of London has, and Croydon lacks. I am convinced that David is right.

  8. Steve Renshaw says:

    A 1-week pitch turnaround time sounds suspiciously like they’ve already decided who’s going to win it….

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