Political correspondent WALTER CRONXITE on how elected Mayor’s grandstanding over a deal with which he had no involvement has been seen through by ordinary Council Tax-payers
Croydon Mayor Jason Perry came under fire last night, as he tried to take credit for the multi-million-pound commercial deal between Hammerson and Westfield’s parent company which ended the failed Croydon “partnership” between the international corporations that has left the town centre blighted for a decade.
Part-time Perry’s efforts to piggyback the commercial announcement brought ridicule from far and wide, with the impotent Town Hall Mayor described as “a mere spectator” as the wheels of big business begin to turn once more.
Nearly an hour after Unibail Rodamco Westfield’s PR agents had issued the news release – datelined Paris and Amsterdam; not Croydon – that they had bought out Hammerson, to pursue alone the redevelopment of Croydon town centre, once reckoned to be a £1.4billion scheme, Perry issued a grandiose statement on Croydon Tories’ social media.
It is notable that this was not an official statement from Croydon Council, who as the local planning authority will have a quasi-judicial role to play in any application from the developers, and therefore must be seen to remain impartial. So Perry’s cheerleading might jeopardise that. Instead, the council posted a carefully edited version of the URW statement on its website.
In a tweet from his personal account, Perry boasted: “I have been working closely with key partners to bring forward the redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre and wider regeneration of the town centre, and I welcome the agreement that has been reached for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield to acquire the outstanding share of Croydon Partnership from Hammerson.”
Perry’s ill-considered statement drew the usual expressions of devoted arslikhan from Tory councillors who no one has ever heard from since the last elections, but also attracted a social media pile-on from residents and observers who clearly have lost patience with third-rate politicians over-promising and under-delivering.
“Are you taking the credit for a corporate firesale?” asked one, undoubtedly aware that Hammerson’s dire financial position had forced them to flog off the Centrale shopping mall for mere “tens of millions”.
“All hot air while residents of Croydon are suffering from the 15per cent Council Tax increase. Don’t take us for mugs!” wrote another.
Another suggested: “I can bet that Mr Jason Perry will finish his term without doing anything for the improvement of Croydon town centre.”
One Croydon resident asked: “Jayzus, do your press office just copy and paste from book of PR clichés?” To which the answer is: of course!
“The press release seems very vague, and meanwhile the town centre has effectively relocated itself to Purley Way,” said another.
And one astute observer, proving that Perry really cannot fool all the people all the time, wrote: “I see Jason Perry is taking all the credit for this news even though Hammerson’s major shareholders have all along forced them to dump £500million of assets by the end of 2023.”
Former editor of Property Week and Evening Standard columnist Peter Bill, taking his cue from Inside Croydon’s reporting of the wheeling and dealing, sounded more than a little careworn by the corporate speak included in the URW statement, adding the observation: “Dare I say it, but maybe something will happen now.”
Gareth Davies, who was the Croydon Sadvertiser’s chief reporter 10 years ago, sounded a similar note of world-weariness: “Hard to believe it’s 2023 and Croydon Council is still putting out hopeful press releases about Westfield and the Whitgift Centre.”
Stephen Mann, a Labour councillor in Croydon from 2014 to 2022, noted, “It’s been dead since 2016. It was marginal when it was signed. Even if they put in for planning today, you are unlikely to see a start on site until the next mayoral term.”
That is due to be 2026.
It is almost a full year since Tory Perry became Croydon’s first elected Mayor. But in the statement issued on behalf of URW yesterday, it revealed that the impotent Mayor had in fact done very little in the past 12 months, apart from wagging one of his pudgy fingers at the developers and telling them to get a bit of a move on.
“I have reconvened the Mayor’s town centre advisory board, which is working with key partners to drive forward the regeneration, and we look forward to seeing plans progress.”
The statement also underlined Perry’s spectator status, as he watches “plans progress”.
Truth is, with URW undertaking some master planning this year, which may not emerge until October, it could be another 12-15 months before any renewed planning application – a third such application for the 25-acre site – is submitted to the pliant council for approval. It could, therefore, be 2025 at the earliest before any demolition or construction work begins. Mann’s prediction could be spot on.
One of Perry’s political opponents, Labour councillor Sean Fitzsimons, piped up in a Twitter thread last night. “Of course, Croydon Tories and the Mayor’s hangers-on are praising the elected Mayor for facilitating the buy-out of Hammersons by Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield. He had nothing to do it.”
Highlighting reports in the specialist press from 2021, Fitzsimons wrote, “Been on the cards the last two years. The surprise is why it has taken so long.
“The failure of the Croydon Partnership was the main reason nothing has happened since 2018. That plus covid, Brexit, changing shopping habits, and a Tory-made downturn in the UK economy were other key factors.
“The last three will still be a factor going forward.
“The lesson from Labour’s eight years [in charge of Croydon Council] is the council should be willing to publicly challenge the companies, and not just behind close doors.
“Sadly, we see Croydon Tories blowing their own trumpets, rather than waiting to see if URW actually deliver something tangible.”
Stuart King, the leader of the Labour opposition on the council, has meanwhile been silent on social media over this major development. That King works for a lobbying firm that specialises in mega-development schemes might have something to do with that…
Read more: Centrale’s owners set to sell-up to Westfield in cut-price deal
Read more: Crisis for Croydon as Westfield ‘reviews’ its £1.4bn scheme
Read more: Westfield scale down plans, leaving Croydon a ‘dead duckling’
Read more: Mary Portas, Westfield, Bradford and a £1bn hole in the ground
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Now this shambles has been reduced to the ownership of one commercial party perhaps Part Time will accept he is now politically solely responsible for what happens to this non-development, but the truth is as the person who appointed Jo Negrini to the role of pursuing this development in the first place he is and has always been part of the abject failure to begin with. Now it will be all his own.
“It is almost a full year since Tory Perry became Croydon’s first elected Mayor”.
Will he write the report on his list of achievements or will that be done by Walter Cronxite?
He still hasn’t reopened Purley Pool. That’s one broken electoral promise. In fact here are the words from his manifesto “I will re-open Purley Pool and Leisure Centre. This has been fully costed and will come from unallocated community infrastructure levy monies and will not impact on any other services. This will restore much needed facilities for health and wellbeing and will bring increased footfall to the district centre”.
What have Labour done for Croydon?, leaving the very same people that vote for them in a financial mess…..If that’s help Labour Croydon have done a lot.
I have yet to see any real progress in holding those that bankrupted the borough held to account. I also don’t think that Croydon Town Centre attracts many shoppers in its current state of decay and crime. What we had over the last 38yrs ago looks like being lost and gone forever.