‘Sustainable’ plans for redeveloping the town centre could see as many as 30,000 new flats built, according to one council figure, but a scheme that was originally due to be completed in 2017 now might only be finished more than 20 years late. By STEVEN DOWNES
The £1.4billion project for Croydon town centre that was first announced in 2012 now may not be finished until 2038, according to one of the bosses at Westfield, the shopping mall developers.
Scott Parsons made his remarks to the Evening Standard, admitting that the planning proposals that had been promised to be completed and submitted for this autumn won’t now be ready until 2025 (at the earliest), as Inside Croydon was first to report.
The revised scheme, when it is finally unveiled, is likely to include “thousands” of flats in the town centre – with one veteran councillor suggesting as many as 30,000 new dwellings could be built in the area over the next decade.
That will be 30 times more than was ever proposed in the first couple of iterations of the Westfield plans, but would meet the new “sustainability” focus of parent company Unibail Rodamco Westfield that was announced by the Paris-based developers earlier this year, according to Croydon councillor Sean Fitzsimons.
Parsons, Westfield’s chief operating officer, used his interview in the Standard to talk up the post-covid business prospects of his company, at its existing large-scale malls, at Shepherds Bush and Stratford. Or, as they are described in the article, “W12 and E20”.
In doing so, Parsons underlined that Westfield is moving further away from its high street retailing model, and instead towards offering health and well-being outlets in the existing centres, as well as what he described as “competitive socialising”: Boozepark-style gimmick bars, like axe-chucking and football penalty-taking. Or chucking and chucking-up.
While W12 and E20 are back to pre-pandemic footfall levels, there are massive problems in CR0, where the Standard describes the “interminable Croydon shopping centre regeneration saga”.
It is clear that Westfield now will never deliver the kind of centre that they have in west and east London, and as they promised in 2012 to build in south London. Significantly, in his Standard interview, Parsons repeated his description of previous, now-rejected, plans for Croydon as being like a “‘death star’ mega mall”.
“We’ve talked a lot about sustainability and community and that we’re aspiring to do something much better much more suited to the needs of the future,” Parsons said.
“We’ve beefed up our development team, gone out and hired some fantastic people across the piece to do everything from asbestos surveys to structural surveys, because rather than take the bulldozer out and obliterate the town centre of Croydon and start again, we really want to make sure we do what’s right from a sustainability point of view and also from a need point of view.”
Some would suggest that Westfield don’t need any bulldozers to “obliterate the town centre of Croydon”: they’ve achieved that already with a decade of inertia, inaction and development blight.
Parsons said: “There’s a lot of concrete there, so we’ve hired just a vast array of consultants to look at every square inch of our 26 acres of Croydon to see what can be repurposed and reused and made fit for the future.
“It’s a really interesting exercise, so I would say the period from now until the year-end is ‘let’s get the right brain cells on board, the right range of resource both internal and external to set up the team’.”
And Parsons confirmed to the Standard that his company won’t be delivering its latest version of plans for Croydon until 2025 – at least 18 months later than the borough’s gullible Mayor, Jason Perry, had claimed.
“I’d say 2024 becomes the engagement period…and then in early 2025 that will be new masterplan submission,” Parsons said.
And the Standard reports: “Parsons calls it an ‘accelerated time scale’, but concedes it will be another 15 years before the good people of Croydon will see their long-awaited town centre transformation completed.”
But that’s what sits most comfortably with URW’s new sustainability mantra, which includes such measures as not turning on escalators until 10am to save energy, rainwater harvesting, a huge wormery and a switchover to LED lighting.
It is this shift in corporate awareness of the global climate disaster and big businesses’ efforts to scale down their impact on the planet that makes Labour councillor Fitzsimons suggest that plans for Westfield Croydon will see a much bigger shift away from people driving into the town centre by car.
In a series of tweets following the reporting that Westfield would not now be publishing their mastplan this year, Fitzsimons wrote, “If URW sustainability principles are applied, it means a move away from a car-led development towards one based on more sustainable transport options.”
In previous plans, Westfield put up £12million for public infrastructure to build a new loop for the trams, so that they would no longer delay motorists driving into the shopping centre car parks. It seems unlikely that such indulgences will reappear.
“Ideally,” Fitzsimons noted, there will be “a rethink of Wellesley Road, a long-term blight on Croydon’s town centre.
“It will also accelerate the repopulation of Croydon town centre, where no one lived for decades following the 1950s redevelopment, and which has seen massive growth these last 15 years…
“We may see 30,000-plus residents within the next decade.
“Remodelling of the Whitgift Centre is likely to deliver thousands of new homes. These can’t just be delivered by build-to-rent developers. If we are to build sustainable communities in the town centre, the new homes must deliver social housing and opportunities for aspiring home-owners.”
Fitzsimons is a long-standing councillor for Addiscombe, and for several years was on the payroll of discredited council leader Tony Newman, effectively paid to look the other way as disasters such as Brick by Brick, children’s services and the Whitgift Centre non-development unfolded.
But he also has a background of working in housing, so while he will not have been taken into the confidence of Mayor Perry and the Town Hall Tories over the proposals for the area, it seems that the developers have not exactly been sharing all their intentions with the Conservative administration, either.
“The failure of the 2012 Croydon Partnership between Australian Westfield and Hammerson, birthed by the Whitgift Foundation and Boris Johnson, leaves a terrible legacy,” Fitzsimons wrote this week, remarks that he never made between 2014 and 2020 when he was among the Newman Numpties who acted as cheerleaders for the scheme.
“With Hammerson gone, URW has a greater financial incentive to tackle the decline of Croydon’s retail centres.
“Piecemeal development is likely to deliver quicker change, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a retail-first approach. The financial hole could be filled by new homes,” Fitzsimons said.
Jason Perry’s term as Mayor of Croydon ends in May 2026
Read more: Hammer blow for Whitgift Centre with new delay to masterplan
Read more: What will the ‘new’ Westfield deal really mean for Croydon?
Read more: Perry blasted after trying to take credit for Westfield’s new deal
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