After 54 years, Sainsbury’s enters final week in Whitgift Centre

CROYDON IN CRISIS: The departure of one of the shopping centre’s ever-presents will only reinforce the feeling of decay and decline in the town centre

The writing’s on the wall: Sainsbury’s exit may prompt other major traders to leave

Sainsbury’s has confirmed that the final day of trading for its Whitgift Centre store will be on Sunday, October 15, ending an association with the shopping mall that goes back more than half a century.

The Whitgift Centre is in seemingly irreversible decline, with dozens of empty units, scaffolding dotted throughout the mall and the floors peppered with buckets to deal with its leaking roof whenever it rains.

The exit of Sainsbury’s, which has been an ever-present at the Croydon centre since 1969, is feared may be followed by other major traders.

Sainsbury’s, the country’s second-largest chain of supermarkets, confirmed in June Inside Croydon’s exclusive report that it is to close its Whitgift Centre store.

The confirmed closure date of the Sainsbury’s store comes a few weeks later than originally suggested, following what the business called a regular “review of our property estate” and based on “a range of factors”.

When the Whitgift Centre’s Sainsbury’s opened 54 years ago, it was the chain’s biggest supermarket in the country.

But the Whitgift Centre has been blighted by more than a decade of neglect and uncertainty over future development plans from Westfield, who were brought into Croydon in 2012 by landowners, the Whitgift Foundation.

Westfield have produced two separate planning applications for a chunk of the town centre that includes the Whitgift Centre and Centrale, Croydon’s second shopping centre, on the other side of North End.

The second, £1.4billion version of Westfield’s scheme was passed following a public inquiry conducted by the Planning Inspector, and saw Croydon Council, as the local planning authority, invest huge amounts of time, money and reputational capital in delivering a Compulsory Purchase Order for the developers that has never been actioned.

After the two schemes stalled, Westfield more recently bought out Centrale owners Hammerson. They have also been fined £5million by the council for their slow progress.

There have been other costs, too: the Whitgift Foundation has seen the value of its property investment portfolio fall by almost £11million between 2021 and 2022, which, according to their latest set of accounts “is due to the decline in value of commercial properties including the Whitgift Shopping Centre”.

Rents from the Foundation’s properties have also slumped, down by £4.4million from £5.6million in 2021 to £1.2million in 2022.

Such plunging revenues have seen the Whitgift Foundation announce the closure of one of its fee-paying schools.

Propped up: emergency repairs require scaffolding throughout the Whitgift Centre, with large parts fenced off from the few remaining shoppers who visit

Westfield has promised to draw up a “masterplan” for the area (another one), before the end of this year.

But for existing traders, such as Sainsbury’s, the run-down Whitgift Centre has become an off-putting place for potential customers, and footfall has failed to recover since the covid pandemic.

As iC reported in June, a large part of Sainsbury’s decision is based on their bottom-line: they have five of their “Local” stores within a mile or so of the Whitgift Centre, all of which offer customers convenience store opening times, but at higher prices.

Sainsbury’s described their decision to close their Whitgift Centre store as “difficult”.

“We understand this will be an unsettling time for those affected and we are supporting them in every way we can. This includes exploring alternative roles for colleagues within Sainsbury’s.

“Customers will continue to be able to shop with us at a number of nearby Sainsbury’s stores, including our West Croydon Station Local, George Streel Local and Croydon High Street Local stores.

“The decision to close a store is never taken lightly.”

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16 Responses to After 54 years, Sainsbury’s enters final week in Whitgift Centre

  1. J Lewis says:

    I am surprised that the Sainsbury’s Whitgift store was once the country’s largest supermarket. It always seemed cramped and a bit claustrophobic. Supermarkets must have started in a small way!

    • Dan Kelly says:

      The Sainsbury Local opposite West Croydon Station is on the site of the first Sainsbury supermarket, which opened in 1950. When we moved to Worthing in the early 1960s the Sainsbury there still had counter service!
      Boots still had a library upstairs.

  2. The Council should do to the Whitgift Centre what they did to Allders: issue a Compulsory Purchase Order.

    If that doesn’t spur the developers into action, they can turf everybody out (there’s a lot of vacant space elsewhere in the town centre) and demolish the place and present the site as a ready to build development opportunity.

    That or turn it into a vibrant green oasis

    • Dan Kelly says:

      You could even build a school there with big playing fields and re-open Horne Brothers by the entrance!

    • Could they do that legally? If they did, we already know that there is no business bothered.

    • Anthony Miller says:

      I’m not really sure what the CPOing of the Allders site actually achieved other than to turf out the tennants to no avail. Like the multiple emptyings of George’s Walk which development sits similarly empty…. Allders remains to this day an empty husk. Part of Tony Newman’s white elephant collection along with the Croydon Park Hotel. I don’t think the Council should be CPOing anything for a commercial private developer or to own it. It’s this Stalinist 5 year plan attitude to controlling the market that causes half the problems. For sure use CPOs for infrastructure projects like roads and trams but to buy shops? It’s anti-competitive … Adam Smith’s invisible hand should sort out High Streets as much as possible. The idea that the whole of Central Croydon should be owned by one developer is as silly as knocking it all down and rebuilding it suddenly when the original phased development took 5 years… I’m not sure either what a charity is doing running a shopping centre particularly if, as seems to be the case, they don’t seem to have any talent for it. Yes, I know it’s a kind of accident of history but … one suspects it’s the Council and the government getting involved in the redevelopment project that has helped it into an endless halt with a lot of money being lost to endless planning bureaucracy …

  3. Ian Bridge says:

    I would imagine the Whitgift centre is at the very bottom of Westfield’s to do list. It is going to have to be up to the Foundation to kickstart things

    • The same Foundation that is forcing a school for girls to close while propping up two schools for boys

      • John Kohl says:

        If rents continue to decline at the rate indicated in the above article, as freeholder of the land the Foundation may eventually have to decide to close one of the boys’ schools too.

  4. STOP PRESS – Today Which said that Sainsbury’s was even more expensive for the weekly shop than Waitrose.

  5. McCormack says:

    Disgusting how the Whitgift Center has been left to rot. Units empty with no plan to fill them with decent outlets. Marks & Spencer’s will be next closely followed by Boots & Superdrug. Let’s see if a recovery plan is announced before Christmas. Don’t hold your breath.

  6. Dan Maertens says:

    Anecdotal evidence suggests that the decision by Sainsbury’s may be related to the number of staff that they have who may be approaching retirement age, and the ‘difficulties’ associated with changing their T&Cs to match the newer contracts that they offer to their convenience store staff with ‘more flexible’ working arrangements.

    I doubt anyone will formally confirm that that is a contributory factor.

    But coupled with the clusterfuck over who is responsible for the scheduled ‘essential’ maintenance work to the Whitgift Centre roof and the associated access equipment that has been in place and unused for months because of a squabble over who is going to appoint which contractor to do what, it really is no great surprise.

    Disappointing, but not a surprise.

  7. James says:

    It’s a sad decline.
    A vibrant busy place 25 years ago has been driven in to a desolate / sad / isolated quiet space.
    It would be great if a developer could spark life back in to the centre but the cost seems to outweigh the benefit. (How do u measure quality of an area and a feeling of happiness)
    Demographics have changed as well. The evening were bustling with young folk. Who now are in their 40s/50s with youngish kids who do not do the same as their parents.

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