Our retailing correspondent, MT WALLETTE, reports on the latest half-cock initiative from the council to ‘revive’ the ailing town centre: an insta account and a desperate plea for ideas from the public
Mayor Jason Perry’s latest feeble effort to somehow insert himself into the long-delayed redevelopment of Croydon town centre has been dismissed as “pretty thin stuff” and described by another council figure as “just more window dressing”.
Last month Westfield announced that it could be 2038 before any long-promised regeneration of Croydon town centre is completed, and that they will take another 18 months, at least, before they unveil the latest version of their “masterplan” for what they have described as “London’s next major and most exciting regeneration zone”. Mind you, they’ve been saying that now for almost 12 years.
It seems a very remote possibility that Mayor Perry had any clue about these latest delays by the developers, for a scheme that was originally announced in 2012 and was supposed to have been completed in time for Christmas 2017.
In 2012, the council’s cabinet member for planning, regeneration and transport who welcomed Westfield to our town and praised their plans was… Conservative councillor Jason Perry.
The latest Westfield announcement – made via the pages of the Evening Standard, rather than to the people of Croydon – has undoubtedly caught piss-poor Perry and his Tory council flat-footed. Perry’s promised high-profile “meanwhile use” for the old Allders department store never materialised and now Westfield has left him empty-handed over plans for the wider town centre area.
“I am not just waiting for regeneration to happen before we take steps to restore pride in our town centre,” Perry told a conference of property speculators and millionaire landlords last week, staged in one of the echoing chasms of unused space inside the Centrale shopping mall.
“I am intent on taking action to ensure we are fixing the broken windows of our borough and making our town centre cleaner, healthier, and safer,” piss-poor Perry told the Develop Croydon conference, following nearly two years as Mayor in which he has achieved sweet FA.
His latest “initiative” is to use some of the ever-growing acres of unused retail space along North End for a pop-up “Urban Room”.
There, the public will be able to view CGI images of buildings that are unlikely ever to be built. Or they might be patronised by the agents of developers about how their lives will be “enriched” by some mural or arts trail. Or they will hear from someone in the council’s planning department about the “vibrant destination” that their home town might become if the multi-billion private interests ever get around to delivering on their promises.
“Everyone who lives, works, studies and visits Croydon is being asked to get involved and share their ideas to help shape the sustainable future regeneration of the North End Quarter and wider town centre,” the council said last week, adding the redundant word “quarter” to the name of the shopping area to at least give the impression that they have been doing something.
“A new Urban Room, in a digital space and a physical place in Croydon, will host conversations, exhibitions and events, encouraging residents to give their views and get involved,” the council said.
“Their ideas will help to shape a plan to steer the town centre’s recovery in line with what people want and restore a sense of local pride,” which anyone who has ever dealt with Croydon Council and the people behind the Westfield project will recognise as nuclear-grade bollocks.
The pop-up shop will open later this year in the Whitgift Centre. And get this!: they are soooo modern, they have even created an Instagram account! How edgy! How exciting!
Visit the Urban Room website and you’ll discover a photo archive that features nothing more recent than 1997 – who’d want to pore over images of the sorry state of the town centre as it has been allowed to become today?
Indeed, many of the photos in this section are from before World War II – a golden age for Croydon before the property speculators tore down so much of the place’s built heritage in the 1960s, and the major landowners, the Whitgift Foundation, were allowed to concrete over playing fields and demolish Victorian buildings to make way for their shopping mall.
“The council is working with partners,” the council said, “…to create the new vision for the town centre.” They’ve managed to corale Transport for London and the Mayor of London into trying to help to find a fix for a mess of their own creating, or as the council propaganda department puts it, “to support sustainable growth in the town centre and projects to deliver regeneration”.
But having studied the detail of the announcement, Inside Croydon columnist Andrew Fisher, said, “After a decade of degeneration in the town centre, Croydon’s Mayor has no plan, no shopping centre, just a talking shop.”
Councillor Stuart King, the Labour opposition leader at the Town Hall, said, “This is pretty thin stuff.
“All the Mayor has to show after 18 months in office is a photo-op with Westfield and now this – a run-of-the-mill consultation dressed up as something different. Our town centre needs action!”
Green Party parliamentary candidate Peter Underwood said he was “flattered” that Mayor Perry is copying what he’s been saying for ages, that Croydon residents should have their say on the town centre.
“Sadly, I suspect Perry is more interested in businesses making a profit out of Croydon than residents’ ideas to make it a nicer place to live,” Underwood told Inside Croydon.
And his party colleague, Ria Patel, who is a councillor for the ward which includes much of the “North End Quarter”, said, “Talking to people in Fairfield, sorting out our town centre is one of their top issues.
“After years of delays and broken promises, I hope this leads to something positive and isn’t just more window dressing.”
Andrew Pelling, a former MP for the area and an independent Croydon mayoral candidate last year, said it is time to abandon the decade-old ideas of redeveloping the Whitgift Centre, and to move the town’s retail hub closer to East Croydon Station.
Pelling accused the council, under both Tories and Labour control, of being “merely unquestioning cheerleaders for Westfield since 2012”.
Pelling said, “Sustainability will come from moving a new retail development close to East Croydon Station so that more people come to shop by public transport. This part of Croydon is, in any case, doing better than central Croydon.”
And Pelling favours a wholesale rethink of the Wellesley Road, the six-lane urban motorway which has split Croydon in two since the 1960s. “Croydon remains cursed by its public freeways,” Pelling said.
“Some parts of the larger roads and space above them could be used for housing development that would also bring capital receipts to pay down some of the council debt.”
Oh, and on the Urban Room’s website’s page for “What’s On”, there is, just as you might expect from half-cocked Croydon Council: absolutely nothing going on.
There’s just a hopeful message: “Watch this space”.
Hardly the kind of thing to ask a Croydon public that has been watching the Whitgift Centre space deteriorate for more than a decade.
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: The council’s in a hole, and yet they still keep on digging
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