Inquiry into Compulsory Purchase Order to enable Westfield/Hammerson redevelopment gets under way
One of the most frequent questions I get asked is, “Are Westfield really coming to Croydon and if so when?” After all the false dawns we’ve had with plans to turn around Croydon’s fortunes (remember the plan to extend the Whitgift Centre to St George’s Walk anyone?), a degree of scepticism is justified, but this time there are grounds for thinking it’s actually going to happen.
First, the scheme already has full planning permission. It has the support of Croydon Council, the Mayor of London and the Government.
Second, Westfield and their partners Hammerson have invested heavily in Croydon. They own the Centrale shopping centre and they recently bought the head lease for the Whitgift Centre from Royal London Asset Management. They wouldn’t have spent all this money if they weren’t confident of success.
There is one remaining legal hurdle to the scheme going ahead. As things stand, Westfield and Hammeron don’t own all of the site. Croydon Council has made a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) to force the other owners to sell to them so that the scheme can go ahead. The public inquiry to determine whether the CPO will be granted starts tomorrow and we should hear the result this summer.
Below is a letter I have sent to the inspector running the inquiry expressing my support for the CPO:
"Dear Mr Griffiths,
Re: The London Borough of Croydon (Whitgift Centre and Surrounding Land bounded by and being part of Poplar Walk, Wellesley Road, George Street and North End) Compulsory Purchase Order 2014 (CPO) and Dingwall Avenue Croydon Stopping Up Order (SUO)
I am writing in my capacity as the Member of Parliament for Croydon Central.
I write to confirm my strong support for Croydon Limited Partnership’s (CLP) proposals to bring forward a mixed-use, retail-led redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre and surrounding land and the associated CPO and SUO, which will be the subject of a public inquiry starting this week.
I believe the scheme provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to turn around Croydon’s fortunes.
First, it will make Croydon one of the top retail destinations in the country, as it was when I was growing up. Westfield and Hammerson will redevelop the Whitgift Centre, bringing the top brands we currently lack to the town centre and taking control of the Centre’s multi-storey car parks, which are currently hideously over-priced. CLP are predicting an extra 8 million people a year will visit Croydon town centre, an increase of 42 per cent.
Second, the scheme will create thousands of jobs (5,000 new jobs during the operational phase plus 4,300 person years of construction employment). CLP will work closely with the Council and Job Centre Plus to set up facilities for jobs brokerage and skills training to ensure that as many of these jobs as possible go to local people looking for work.
Third, the scheme will lead to the construction of between 400 and 600 new homes. Not only will this help to address the huge demand for housing in our town, but having people living in the town centre will change it for the better - rather than just being somewhere young people go to drink in the evenings, it will once again be a place where people live, encouraging the development of cafes, bars, restaurants and leisure/cultural facilities.
Fourth, the scheme will make it much easier to get around the town centre on foot. Unlike the current Whitgift Centre, which is impassable at night, there will be pedestrian routes running through the scheme, giving it a much more town centre feel and ensuring that there are good connections with other parts of the town centre that we want to see regenerated like London Road and Surrey Street.
Finally - and most importantly - the scheme will help change the reputation of Croydon, thereby encouraging others to invest here. It is an historic opportunity to reverse Croydon’s relative decline in recent years.
None of these benefits will be realised without the CPO. Those currently responsible for managing the Centre have no plans for the kind of wholesale redevelopment that is required. Indeed, they are struggling to cope even with basic maintenance as you will see if you visit the Centre when it is raining when buckets are placed at various locations to catch watching leaking through the roof.
I am in close contact with a number of developers who are promoting schemes across Croydon and I am in no doubt that the CLP scheme is seen as pivotal by every single one of them in realising Croydon’s potential. Without it, Croydon’s plans for regeneration will be seriously curtailed and I worry that we will miss the chance of a lifetime to turn around our town’s fortunes.
I would therefore urge you to support the proposed CPO on the grounds that it is clearly in the public interest, that there is no viable alternative and that it enjoys very strong support across the borough.
Gavin Barwell MP
Member of Parliament for Croydon Central"