Town centre stations should be the focus for future vision

Tokyo calling: in Japan, retail offerings are centred on rail stations like Shibuya

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

Uninviting: Croydon High Street, near the old Grants building, has been pedestrianised poorly

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.

Bed store: with town centre shops boarded up, the homeless have made use of Croydon’s plentiful ‘supply’ of fly-tipped mattresses

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.

Stuck in time: there’s been no work carried out on the Nestlé Tower since early 2020

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.

Multi-million-pound headache: R&F’s stalled redevelopment of the Nestlé Tower and St George’s Walk is another sore point in the town centre

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

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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13 Responses to Town centre stations should be the focus for future vision

  1. Pete Jenkins says:

    Thank you Andrew for saying what we all think and want. Excellent words.
    The town centre is an absolute mess.

    As for the transport situation, can it get any worse? All that bus pollution on the crazy bus diversions – why hasn’t Mayor Khan with his mad emissions plans intervened? After all he seems to go on and on about “his buses”.

    What a super idea about Segas House. Trouble about showing all the hidden artworks, no doubt the Council would want to sell them once they have been revealed.

    And as for Fairfield Halls, another disaster area.

    On Friday’s “One Show” guest Jack Dee related a story of when he appeared there soon after the costly renovation and the sound system stopped working. Now the whole country knows of the farcical situation of the botched work – if they hadn’t heard about it through IC, The Stage, Municipal Journal and Private Eye, etc

  2. Marty says:

    Richard Rogers said in his urban white paper 25 years ago retail development should be focussed on public transport hubs – kind of obvious. Croydon should do this

  3. moyagordon says:

    Where the bus stops are located on Park Street, is not an inviting place in the dark of an evening. It would help encourage people to use the buses if they feel safe waiting of an evening, there needs to be better lighting and bus shelters with seating. Croydon could be a buzzing place. Definitely more leisure facilities for young people would help bring people into the town centre.

  4. Mr Paul Reitman says:

    I am getting more and more frustrated with the seediness of Croydon Town Centre. I would love to see unused spaces such as Alders, Whitgift and North End opened up to private enterprise. i.e. small stalls, let out on a daily basis to any member of the public who would like to see if they are capable of starting their own business or even if they have property to sell on a one-off basis.

  5. Steven Thornton says:

    Pelling should have been voted in as Mayor, he was the only one standing for the right principles during the election, but here we are.

    It seems something is going on in the background, all of the shops and restaurants opposite St George’s walk have left with no replacements or even advertised as available. We can only hope there is some kind of master plan, however overly hopeful that might be.

    With the thousands of new apartments bringing in new residents, it surely shouldn’t be that difficult to revitalise the town.

    • James S says:

      Good article. Agree its time for the council to show real vision. The current disjointed approach whilst waiting for a fake saviour has absolutely ruined the town centre. You don’t need flash urban realm to make a place. We’ve become obsessed with fancy gimmicks when most people are interested in fundamentals…. Is it clean, is it safe, is it weatherproof, can I get there quickly, and is there something to do/eat/see/buy….I’d order croydon to adopt a Shoreditch approach like Berlin, etc as we’ll never mirror Tokyo.

      Croydon fails with bus access from the south. I don’t see many people travelling from in to out to visit so this needs fixing. We’ve seen the impact it’s had over the last years. It’s awful around that end.. That cycle lane and pedestrian section are ijust not used so its a prime example if vanity planning whilst thousands of people go on a massive diversion past boarded up shops, around a roundabout, etc

  6. Lewis White says:

    So many really important points made by Andrew Pelling in this article. I am glad that he has stated clearly the need to bring back buses in the area of the High Street from Allders , past the old “Grants” building, all the way down to the Flyover.

    As he says, passengers going Southwards have to walk down to Leon House, which is a very long way for everyone, particularly bus users with mobility difficulties, or disabilities, or handling a push chair (particularly with other children walking beside), and anyone with heavy shopping bags, .

    Until recently, Southbound buses went down Park Street where the stops were located, turning left into the High Street opposite the old “Grants” building.

    Buses coming from the South were ( and currently still are) routed up Katharine Street and then up the top end of Park Street

    This arrangement brought people from the South reasonably close in to the town centre, and allowed them to get a bus back home either in Park street or at the bus stops located between the top end of Surrey Street and the Flyover.

    Currently, the whole of the section from George Street to Katharine street is closed to vehicles. It is a sad, empty, ghost town of a once busy High Street.
    Even tumbleweed would feel lonely, in these cheerless spaces, things are so bad.

    If a pedestrian piazza is built outside the Town hall and Clocktower, as part of the St.George’s walk redevelopment , this will stop buses going up or down this section of Katharine Steet, so the nearby South High Street area and Surrey Street area will become even harder to access by shoppers or anyone trying to get to the Clocktower coming from the “South”–which includes the South East and South West as well.

    I hope that Mayor Perry will really look at ways of getting people quickly and easily by bus into the town centre from all points of the compass, and in particular, reinstate the sort of accessibility we enjoyed only a few years back.

    I think that pedstrianisation is not the answer to creating bustling town centres, albeit that that air quality has improved. Throughout the UK there are very empty high streets, even in high Summer. Take a trip to Southend, where the sea front is throbbing, and the High street is more or less empty of activity. No buses down there either. There is clearly a link–

    Pedestrians need adequate space on the footway, but not more than that.
    The South part of the High Street, from Park Street, all the way to the Flyover, needs to be reopened to buses. Maybe, one-way buses could share George Street with the trams?

    Bus passengers are important and need to be respected, and their journeys made direct, and easy — they are a large part of the life blood of the town centre.

    In the hands of sensible Urban designers, a good design could be created fro the Hig Street allowing plenty of space for pedestrians, and a shared street for buses, taxis, and bicylces, probably with a 15 mph speed limit, plus a few well-located street trees to make it green.

    Andrew makes other great points–Segas house as arts centre– plus the need for much better lighting to allow the pedestrian to be and feel safe.

    • John B says:

      The town centre was in decline even back when buses were travelling via Park Street. Bringing them back won’t change much. The problem is that there is very little to attract the average shopper to the town centre. The big stores such as Littlewoods, Debenhams and Allders are gone, Surrey Street market is a shadow of itself, the Whitgift Centre is part empty, part occupied by low quality outlets, and policing is not what it once was. Bringing back the major stores and anchor tenants has to be a priority. Filling Allders with cheap retailers is simply repeating the errors of the past. No way could buses use George Street unless the tram was rerouted which would be madness.

      • Dan Smith says:

        I live near Lebanon Road Tram stop and the busses and teams Co exist really well I think the main problem with George Street is the other traffic that uses the road. I’ve been down it multiple times where trams are stuck in queues due badly parked delivery vans. It was a stupid place to put a tesco expresses there is no where for delivery vans to stop without causing chaos.
        The area outside St George’s walk needs to be turned back to what it was there isn’t the foot flow there which requires that much space.
        Croydon has declined mainly due to budged issues. First being an increase in the councils responsibilities to pay for stuff out of their budged but top government didn’t increase said budget. Too miss management of budget by the local government.
        Throw in the rise of Internet shopping, covid, rate increases, upto the Westfield debacle.
        I grew up with littleWoods, woolworths, Debenhams. All big name brands all slowly killed off by online shopping. Didn’t help that large companies crushed independent stores then when the large companies went no one was left to fill the void.
        Croydon dose not have a reliable infustructure to support more and more housing we need to fix what’s broken before adding more people into the mix.

  7. Peter Howard says:

    I totally agree with ex Councillor Pelling. He would have made a very good Elected Mayor.

    Croydon visually is a disgrace. I’ve been to some Africa continent townships and Croydon is outdone by them.

    I came here from South London and even after the war things were not as scruffy. In 1963 when I moved here and worked at Croydon Council, it was a nice enough place. Not now.

    What can we expect, the Council is bust again and no one has been punished. It paid Negreedy half a million for what? Both the Chief exec and elected Mayor are FRIGHTENED to publish the report critical of the Council and some of it’s Senior staff and tried to legally gag Inside Croydon. They made a mess of that!! What have they got to hide and where is the missing millions?? Why NO POLICE involvement? Where are Croydon’s Conservative Councillors pushing this.

    You don’t expect Labour to act as they were in power.

  8. derekthrower says:

    I cannot deny that there are some good ideas here and that retail should be more closely integrated into public transport systems, but Pelling is missing a fundamental problem that cannot be solved with tinkering with a road and rail system. The country is getting poorer and real incomes have stagnated over the last decade and are now starting to fall rapidly. Circulating income is the main problem retail is facing and why the switch to online is done as a necessity rather than a preference in how we shop. The local government silo of Pelling is inadequate to deal with this economic decline alone.

  9. Kevin says:

    It will need some drastic action, Croydon town centre must be getting close to being beyond saving. I know a lot of people who have given up and much prefer to hop on the 119 and go shopping in Bromley or West Wickham. As to West Croydon and London Road, that is a complete no-go area.

  10. Lewis White says:

    Had the interrnet shopping boom come on stream 15 years after it did, Croydon’s Centrale shopping mall would probably not have been built. The Whitgift would perhaps not be as empty as it is now, if Centrale had not happened.

    Even before the Whitgift’s decline, the shops on the top deck in the Whitgift were always a bit marginal. Even when it was open air, back in the 1960’s, before the roofing over revamp or revamps.

    The rise in the Purley Way asa shopping area, with plenty of free car parking, certainly has also made a difference. Who wants to pay several pounds to park in the Town centre, if you can park for nothing at Purley Way, especially if you intend to get big items to put in the car.

    In common I am sure with hundreds of other Inside Crpydpon readers, I hate the American shopping model of driving and parking in an amorphous landscape of big warehouse buildings set in seas of car parking….and yet I go there, to urey Way, as it just so easy and –as noted–parking is free.

    I and most people like to be in places with lots of other people, as it feels like life, as opposed to existence. It is life–to be in busy places full of happy shoppers –but why does it feel more real and more fun to be in places which are not just a mall, with walkways, and chain shops?.

    Why was it so good to go into the old Allders, for example?.

    Why do people love shopping and just walking around London –places like Chinatown, Covent Garden, and many others.Is it the architecture, the intimate scale of small shops and big strets like Oxford Street, contarsted with smaller side streets and their small shops?

    Is it that we like the combination of being indoors in the comfort of a shop or cafe, then like to be outdoors, in the fresh air, and sunshine or rain, or cold, before popping into another shop or cafe or pub?

    I don’t know, but I do know that I like that mix of indoor and outdoor, and find mall experience of being indoors all the time is artificial, anodyne– a huge bore.

    Looking at the commnets from fellow contributors above, it’s clear that people do care about croydon, and are sad at the current emptiness.

    Let’s hope that the new residential blocks fill up with people who actually live in them, not Air B and B customers. Let’s hope that the St George’s walk redevelopment gets unfrozen– it’s a massive hole in the urban fabric.

    Let’s hope that the Whitgift gets redeveloped for a mix of flats and shops and–a mix of under-cover, and outdoor spaces, all linked nicely.

    We then mght get our big shops back.


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