Hammer blow for Whitgift Centre with new delay to masterplan

CROYDON IN CRISIS: No more ‘Death Star’-type, £1.4bn Westfield shopping mall say developers, who want to build ‘thousands’ of flats, as Paris-based firm looks for a more sustainable approach

More broken promises: new delays over Westfield are more embarrassment for Croydon’s piss-poor Mayor

In a hammer blow to any hope of urgently rescuing the fortunes of Croydon town centre, developers Westfield now say that they will not have their “masterplan” for the regeneration of the Whitgift and Centrale shopping centres ready much before 2025 – at least 18 months later than previously promised.

The setback is the latest embarrassing failure by Jason Perry, the Croydon Mayor who in April boasted that the revised plan would be on his desk this year.

And the news is certain to cause even greater problems for the troubled landowner, the Whitgift Foundation, which has seen tens of millions of pounds wiped off the value of its property assets as a result of the developers’ delays.

The Foundation’s £1billion gamble in property speculation over their shopping mall has resulted in a decade of development blight for the town centre, millions in lost business rates for the council, and will now see one of its three private schools forced to close because of their dire financial position.

It is nearly 12 years since Westfield were first imposed on the leaseholders of the Whitgift and Centrale centres by Tory MP Gavin Barwell, backed by Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London, and enthusiastically supported by the then-Conservative-controlled council, which included Perry as a cabinet member responsible for development.

The stalled commercial project has proved to be a disaster for the town centre and the borough generally, the development blight casting dark clouds over the future of the Whitgift Centre, which has been allowed to decay and deteriorate. Last weekend saw the latest large business pull down the shutters for a final time when Sainsbury’s supermarket, a Whitgift ever-present for more than 50 years, closed.

Bucket shops: the Whitgift Centre is an empty husk of the once-bustling mall, its floors lined with buckets every time it rains

In 2020, even before covid accelerated the decline of high street retailing, Croydon was taken out of the development “pipeline” of Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, the Paris-based business which had taken over the Australian-owned developers in two years before. The French firm made no secret that Brexit had made it much less attractive to them to do business in south London.

URW’s interest in Croydon was only revived earlier this year, when they bought out former partners Hammerson.

With the Compulsory Purchase Order for the project now five years out of date, URW said that they would fast-track a new masterplan for the scheme, with the expectation that it would be revealed this autumn, reviving hopes that they might finally deliver on the promises of a £1.4billion mixed redevelopment of flats, shopping and leisure facilities for the 26-acre site.

A new planning application (the third), a review by the Mayor of London, a new CPO and planning inspector inquiry may all be needed before the first demolition work could commence.

But in reports in the trade press, URW’s chief operating officer Scott Parsons says that the “refreshed” masterplan was unlikely to be brought forward before 2025.

American architects Kohn Pedersen Fox – KPF for short – who are known for their skyscraper schemes, are to oversee the masterplan process for URW, it was reported by the Architects Journal. This is a new appointment. In April, URW had said that this process would be managed for them by London-based Freestate master planners.

Big business: URW’s Jean-Marie Tritant (left) and Scott Parsons (right) waste some of their time with Jason Perry. Did they forget to mention the masterplan delay to him?

Previously approved versions of the town centre plans had included around 900 flats. According to the AJ report, those plans are “set to be tweaked”, but now to include “thousands of homes”.

Parsons told the magazine: “In the past the plan for Croydon was to knock it all down and build this big, ‘Death Star’-type inward-looking Westfield that’s all-singing all-dancing.

“Now we will be much more focused on the sustainability side of things.”

The magazine reports that “retrofitting” existing units may be a possibility – although how that tallies with the current sorry state of the Whitgift Centre, the empty husk of a once-bustling mall, now with large sections fenced off or propped up with scaffolding, the floor dotted with buckets every time it rains on the leaky roof, the Architects Journal failed to explain.

“We’re looking at the whole of the Croydon estate,” Parsons said, “and have structural engineers and specialist advisors on board to look at what we can repurpose and what can be adapted and reused.

Fenced in: large sections of the Whitgift Centre are now either off-limits or, like Sainsbury’s, closed for good

“It will be a phenomenal mixed-use development opportunity but it will happen in a much more organic and feasible way rather than just getting the wrecking ball out.”

Parsons’ comments come after his boss at URW, CEO Jean-Marie Tritant, earlier this week unveiled a group-wide sustainability strategy.

The possibility that it could be 2025 before any masterplan is delivered will be the latest massive setback for Croydon Mayor Jason Perry, whose record for delivery is looking particularly shabby.

Six months ago, Perry, desperate to make himself appear as a significant figure in the town centre regeneration (he really is not), described it as “one of my main priorities”.

“Since I was elected last May [2022] I have met regularly with Westfield and Hammerson to ensure that we get the redevelopment of our town centre back on track,” he said then.

Perry has said nothing about the latest delay in delivering the masterplan. Perhaps his mates at Westfield forgot to mention it to him before they had their chat with the Architects Journal?

As URW took over their former partners Hammerson’s half-share in the project, puffed-up Perry pompously declared: “I’m pleased to announce that Westfield has today restated its intention to regenerate the centre of Croydon, by making a significant investment in its future.”

The takeover, Perry said, “simplified” some of what he called “logistical challenges”.

According to Perry, this would make it easier “for the billion-pound regeneration of Croydon to be restarted”. Which sort of suggests that it had ever got underway in the first place, which of course it never did.

Embarrassing: Mayor Perry’s broken promises are beginning to mount up

“This significant step sends a very clear signal to Croydon residents that URW remains committed and incredibly enthusiastic about the plans to regenerate the tired Whitgift Centre into a facility fit for the 21st Century.” Yeah, like we hadn’t heard it all before.

And Perry said, “I now look forward to working with Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield as they develop a new masterplan for Croydon this year, which will inform a new, revised application for the town centre that will meet the future needs of our community.” Note that: “this year”.

Perry said he had “reconvened” something called “the Mayor’s Town Centre Advisory Board”, which he claimed “is working with key partners to drive forward the regeneration”. Although when we asked Perry’s office for a list of meetings of the Mayor’s Town Centre Advisory Board, the minutes from those meetings and a list of its members, they failed to respond with any answers.

When Perry, with Gavin Barwell and Boris Johnson, were lobbying for the Westfield development in Croydon town centre, they promised 5,000 new jobs and that it would all be finished by 2017. If Westfield does manage to produce a masterplan by 2025, it could be 2029 before construction work in the town centre is complete.

Jason Perry’s term as Mayor of Croydon ends in May 2026.

Read more: What will the ‘new’ Westfield deal really mean for Croydon?
Read more: Westfield seals deal to buy Hammerson out of town centre
Read more: Perry blasted after trying to take credit for Westfield’s new deal
Read more: Westfield scale down plans, leaving Croydon a ‘dead duckling’

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24 Responses to Hammer blow for Whitgift Centre with new delay to masterplan

  1. Simon Squires says:

    I’m guessing Boots will be the next to announce they are going and then at some point M&S will pull the plug too. It is a complete shambles and when you combine it with the St Georges Walk site, the town centre is an embarrassment.

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    I’m with Simon on his point. But I do have to ask – who cares anymore what Mr Perry or Westfield spout?
    Realistically even if they start in two years time it will be 2027 before anything is delivered and that is pushing it.
    Croydon Council, Perry and in fact anyone else coming in are in a terrible position.

    They have no room for any negotiation and no money to seed anything. They also have a tax paying population thats been squeezed wrongfully and have a bucket of resentment towards this administration from all wards and all hue of voters.

    Westfield in effect can dictate what it wants and they will just have to doff the cap.

    But again who cares?
    The centre today is facing rampant shoplifting and youth gang isues.
    Come evening there are so many groups of youths just haging about smoking skunk at the different benches you would get a free high walking from Primark to North End and your clothes would stink for at least two dry cleans.
    The pavements are broken and filthy with spilled beed and food and shop refuse along with rubbish dumped by belly bins so manky you would not even approach them without a level 4 Haz suit.
    Anyone wanting to shop has left already and gone to other Boroughs that are easily accessible by train or tram. Croydon is the area of last option on the way home, or if in a real hurry and desperate. Many shopping there are unable to get to other places and are disabled. But even the pavements pose serious hazards to chair and stick users.

    So who cares?
    Not Perry, Not Kersell, Not McArdle, Not Rowley. Not Gove.

    Can any honest Politician stand up and say they care and have tasks they feel can make a difference?

    If not it just leaves us Residents to care.

  3. Liam johnson says:

    Another embarrassment for Perry, just what does he think he’s achieving by lying to everyone about timescales? Surely he’d have known that the plan wasn’t being done if he’s apparently meeting them on a monthly basis.

    He told the scrutiny committee they’d be in pre-application discussions in Spring 2024. What an absolute shambles for what is his apparent “priority”.

  4. David Wickens says:

    I wonder when Croydon Council will update its “About Croydon” information on its recruitment pages. For many years it has been providing out of date information and it currently claims that Croydon will become one of Europes largest retail and leisure destinations over the next five years. Do Kerswell and Perry stand by this information or is it blatant lies?

  5. johnG says:

    It seems the bankruptcy of Croydon when Labour had control and did not find a solution might just be a tad to do with where we are. We need all Croydon Councillors to fix Croydon and not just an elected Mayor.

    • derek thrower says:

      It must be a surprise to you that Mr Perry was the person who appointed Ms Negrini to oversee the redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre.

  6. Hazel swain says:

    Croydon is already overcrowded and has enough flats ……….no more tower blocks ….

  7. Tim Lewis says:

    I’m just trying to wrap my head around this. Over a decade ago Westfield signed a binding agreement with the Whitgift Foundation. Ever since nothing has happened other than the decline of central Croydon because of this non-project. Is there an obligation to still be working with Westfield? Can this be cancelled in some way if so? I’m guessing whatever was signed worked in the favour of Westfield rather than the freeholder, which is why they are still involved. There are many global property groups other than Westfield that could potentially come in, along with entertainment groups etc

    The transformation of this area is vital, am I naive in thinking that the onus should be on the Whitgift Foundation and Croydon Council to create a bidding war between rival groups and to pick and choose the best project on the best terms between them rather than holding out in the hope that Westfield will ever do anything.

  8. Peter Underwood says:

    For the twelfth year running someone at Croydon Council claims that the Whitgift development is still going to happen. For the twelfth year running it is left to private companies to decide what they want to do, and residents aren’t even asked for their opinion. For the twelfth year running our town centre declines.

    Isn’t it about time we got the people of Croydon together to decide what we want to do with the town centre? Isn’t it time we stopped putting all of the Council’s energy into cosying up to the Whitgift developers and looking into revitalising our local high streets all over Croydon instead? Isn’t it time we elected more politicians who care more about Croydon residents than expensive lunches with millionaire developers?

    • Christopher Myers says:

      Is this the Greens big idea– consultation???

    • To be fair, I don’t think it is the 12th year running… there was moment, around 2021 I think, when whoever it was who was in charge of the council – not Tony “Growth Zone” Newman, nor any of the Tories who inflicted this benighted scheme on the town – actually accepted what URW said about taking Croydon out of their “pipeline”.

      It is, just as it has always been, a private property development conducted on behalf of private landowners, and there’s very little that the local authority can do about it. Although had they acted from the start as critical friends, rather than cheerleaders, it might have proved a more productive approach.

  9. It’s a good job that the stupid plans to build massive dual carriageways and flyovers in Waddon for Westfield never got the go-ahead. What a waste of public money and open space that would have been (unless you think the ability to flee central Croydon at high speed is worth any amount of financial and environmental expense).

  10. derek thrower says:

    Originally during this fiasco I used to speculate that whatever was going to be put in place of the Whitgift wouldn’t happen till the second half of the 2020’s. I never knew I was an optimist.

  11. Anthony Miller says:

    URW has more plans?
    I don’t know why they don’t just hire Walter Mitty and be done with it.

  12. Kevin Croucher says:

    I don’t know what a “Death Star” development is, but it was obvious that the shopping mall ship sailed many years ago. Westfield may be many things, but they are not fools and must have realised this. Why has it taken so long for our council to come to the same conclusion?

    • Not sure our council has come to any conclusion, Kevin. They are, as they have always been, just bystanders as private developers and property owners go about their business, with no consideration for the impact on the area or residents

  13. April Rain says:

    I am not too sure of the politics around the non-developments of Croydon Town Center, but back when we first moved to Croydon over 23 yrs ago, we furnished our house and got all out stuff locally. It was a really nice place to go on a Saturday if you wanted to go shopping. Alders, WH Smiths, HMV etc. Would avoid go Croydon Town Center now…

  14. Chris Flynn says:

    Interesting about the new approach. It feels like they’re moving the Goalposts, and the bar for success is now not completion, but tinkering with the current site. Brace yourself for a pyrrhic victory…

  15. Years ago, just after the Minerva fiasco, I said that Westfield or whatever it goes by would never work and would never see the light of day. I had plenty of negative reactions then but, loud voice Now they are going to start the whole thing off again and fail again. Einstein’s definition of insanity…well, you know all that. Watch this space!

  16. John B says:

    A radical rethink of the site is required. The Allders store has to be redeveloped into residential or demolished. The rest of the site can be part developed back to its original use, i.e. a school, and the rest into mixed residential/commercial. Consideration could be given to depedestrianising the High Street.

  17. Easy to blame everyone for the fiasco, but it’s clear that Croydon people do not want to shop in the town centre. Town centre shopping malls have had their day and that day is past. The world, including benighted Croydon, is a different place.

    • You better tell your mates Philp and Perry, the world’s most unfunny comedy double act.
      They both think a shopping centre is exactly what we need.
      But then, they’d always dance to the tune of big business

      • My ‘mates’? How very dare you? First you libel me as an ‘old Farageist’ and now this! It’s too much. I’m considering cancelling my subscription and will be calling my solicitor. Now where did I leave the ‘phone number for Mr Lawrence-Orumwense?

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