With more shops closing and others reducing their floor space in the run-down Whitgift Centre, ANDREW PELLING looks east for solutions to address the town centre’s retail decline
The continued loss of retail outlets in Croydon comes as high street retailing is in trouble nationally. The Centre for Retail Research says that shop closures were at a five-year high in 2022 and 50per cent higher than in 2021. Last year saw 17,000 shops close – nearly 50 every day of the year.
But the changes in the retail sector should not stop us looking for a vision for a brighter future in Croydon – something that after more than 10 years and despite at least three iterations, Westfield and successive council administrations have notably failed to provide.
That vision can come from moving Croydon’s retail offer to two hubs around the main rail stations of East Croydon and West Croydon, and building it around sustainable transport.
This would recognise that the best connections now come on the rail and overground lines, and even Croydon’s tram system. Good connections are no longer based on a now very dated US-style six-lane urban motorway to ease the way of car-borne shoppers into town centres.
Models for successful retail based near railway stations can be seen at Shibuya in Tokyo and Hakata in Fukuoka. Shibuya is that place with those eye-catching zebra crossings going diagonally.
East Croydon has been doing relatively better than central Croydon and could become the place of the primary retail offer.
Eleven years has been more than long enough to wait for the dead loss that has been Westfield. The area around the Whitgift Centre is now better placed for restoring some of the town centre’s green spaces that were lost in the developments of the 1960s, and for new residential building that will release development pressure elsewhere in the borough.
It will be interesting to see whether the revised Croydon Plan that has been promised to emerge soon by Mayor Jason Perry has any vision and is really that much different from that which was put forward by the previous Labour administration.
At West Croydon, ward councillors need to show leadership and help Croydon BID work to market the broad and diverse food offer that London Road offers. Sympathetic changes in policy could improve intensification and property capital values here, resourcing the marketing of a “shop the world” theme for the greengrocers and other retailers on London Road.
It’s also long past time also to reverse the ban on bus stops near the Allders building, something that discourages shoppers coming in from the south of the borough. Making shoppers from the south walk almost three-quarters of a mile, to or from the nearest bus stops by Leon House, is not workable.
The alternative to that daunting trek is for bus passengers to wait on a narrow pavement at an inadequately lit bus stop under the Nestlé Tower’s long-term scaffolding at the top end of Park Street.
This bus stop arrangement is damaging town centre footfall. The original idea was to create a pedestrian-only space outside Grants. That pedestrianisation appears to have hurt this part of Croydon High Street. It is not a pleasant place to be.
All the shops are boarded up on St George’s Walk. There is not an attractive sense of place. After dark, especially at weekends, when some of the queues of club-goers spill outside, does not improve the area’s attractiveness.
To accommodate these road closures, buses have been going on long excursions up and down the Flyover. The council should be working with Transport for London to recreate a a direct southbound, while improving the cycle routes on the High Street with alternating priority signalling for north- and south-bound buses.
Such changes would also assist visitors to the Fairfield Halls – having the Halls open more regularly would aid town centre footfall, too.
The lack of development of the Whitgift Centre is not the only sore point for central Croydon. The stalled redevelopment by Chinese developers R&F of the Nestlé Tower and adjoining St George’s Walk, opposite the Town Hall on Katharine Street, is another multi-million-pound headache for the council.
Thought needs to be given to tapping local private donors, charities and and even government grants, like those under Historic England, to bring parts of the listed Segas House into arts use – such as creating a gallery to exhibit the hundreds of amazing treasures of Croydon Council’s arts collection much of which is locked in vaults beneath the Town Hall and hardly ever sees the light of day.
Touring exhibitions could come to Croydon’s new gallery, too.
Given the council’s long-term financial problems, the time is soon coming that if action is not taken to better display those possessions, then it would be better that they were sold to those who can exhibit them, with the money used to aid Croydon woes.
- 2022 Mayoral election candidate Andrew Pelling was a Labour councillor from 2014 to 2022, when he was expelled from the party. He has previously been a Croydon councillor, London Assembly Member and MP for the Conservatives
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