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
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.
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With the Compulsory Purchase Order for the project now five years out of date, URW said that they would fast-track a new masterplan for the scheme, with the expectation that it would be revealed this autumn, reviving hopes that they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.
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.
“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  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.
“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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