The best day Croydon has had for a very long time 18/01/2013 07:15:00
Yesterday, the Mayor of London came to the Fairfield Halls to announce that Westfield and Hammersons have formed a joint venture to redevelop Centrale and the Whitgift Centre.
Under the terms of the agreement, Westfield has acquired a 50% interest in Centrale from Hammerson and the joint venture will purchase a 25% interest in the Whitgift Centre, following completion of a conditional acquisition agreement between Hammerson and Royal London Asset Management. Westfield will undertake the design and construction of the project; Hammerson will continue to manage Centrale and manage any further acquisitions prior to the development of the Whitgift Centre. A Westfield executive will lead the project development team and it is intended that a Hammerson executive will lead the asset management of the completed centre.
It is difficult to overstate just how good this news is for our town. As a retail centre, Croydon has been in relative decline for some time - we used to be one of the top 10 destinations in the country; now we're just in the top 25. Of course, most high streets have struggled in recent years as more people shop online - witness the recent announcements re Jessops and HMV - but we've struggled more than most because of poor management of the Whitgift Centre, the town's worsening image and the disastrous decision of the previous Labour Council to sell off our car parks to NCP.
Regular readers of this blog will know that whilst I was delighted that two companies with such prestigious reputations were interested in investing in Croydon, I was very concerned that while they battled for the right to redevelop our retail centre, it might decline very quickly following the closure of Allders. Both the Mayor of London and the Conservative administration at the Town Hall deserve huge credit for the work they have done behind the scenes that has helped bring the two companies together.
Today's announcement really is a game changer for the town. We have two of the top retail developers in the country proposing to invest about £1 billion in our retail centre with the explicit aim of bringing brands like John Lewis to Croydon and making it one of five retail destinations in the capital (the others being Brent Cross in north London, Westfield London in west London, Westfield Stratford City in east London and the West End in central London). Not only will this create thousands of jobs but it is likely to encourage owners of other key sites around the town centre to get on with their schemes and it's going to help to transform Croydon's reputation.
Although their schemes were broadly similiar, they naturally had their individual merits. Now we will get the best of both worlds - the Westfield brand but crucially the two centres being run as one rather than competing with each other.
They intend to get planning permission this year, to start on site in 2015 and to complete the scheme in 2018. We'd all like to see a quicker timetable but this is a big scheme and these things take time. What's important is that existing retailers in the town - and those we want to come here - have certainty it is going to happen.
One of my key jobs is going to be to help secure funding from the Mayor and the Government for the transport infrastructure improvements we are going to need. This is going to be a retail destination for south London and parts of the South East. We need to make sure that our public transport system and our road network are up to scratch so that people can get here easily. That's going to mean doing something about Purley Cross and Fiveways and also further improvements to capacity at East Croydon station I suspect.
As I mentioned above, one of the main things that puts people off shopping in Croydon at the moment is the parking prices. That's something both Westfield and Hammersons are very much aware of and determined to address.
Finally a word to the sceptics. When I tweeted about this yesterday, several people responded "We've heard it all before. The Council has published numerous plans for the future of Croydon and nothing ever happens. Why should this be any different?" I can understand their scepticism. But there is a big difference. In the past, particularly when Labour were running the town, we've had grandiose plans that didn't have buy in from those who owned the sites in question. Today, we have two of the top retail developers in the country saying "We're coming". They have the financial muscle to do this and they have the support of the freeholder and the primary leaseholder. In over two and a half years as your MP and twelve long years as a councillor before that, this is the best day for our town I can think of. Remember 17th January 2013. I think it'll turn out to be the day Croydon's fortunes turned around.
On23/01/2013 19:50:00Irene Harriswrote:
I know the scheme will give jobs to people in the long run, but will local builders etcetera be used to help Croydons economy? Or will there be cheap foreign labour (Polish mainly). This is not being racist, this is being factual, there are a lot of builders in Croydon needing a job.
On23/01/2013 20:12:00John Hiltonwrote:
When you can park free of charge without hassle at Bluewater there is no question that NCP charges are driving people away from the center of Croydon. Just before Christmas I paid £8.80 to park in the Fairfield Car and that was for just 4 hours in the evening. This scheme must go ahead as soon as possible, any retraction will be very bad for the future of Croydon as a major shopping centre. Whilst this is not the only thing that needs to happen it may well bring prosperity back to Croydon which will enable other projects to go ahead. A new theatre complex, an art galley, museum and cafe/restaurant in that wonderful art deco building opposite the Fairfield Hall, a tram service to South Croydon & Purley? Go for it Gavin!
On23/01/2013 20:27:00Dr. Tanmay Sarkarwrote:
It is fantastic news! Wish if it could have happened before 2015. Thanks for all hard work you have done for this.
Is it known what is going to happen to Georges Walk and all the above empty spaces?
On24/01/2013 07:20:00Tony Stellingwrote:
Retailing is good. However Manufacturing and Office jobs are a lot better. We seem to be losing these jobs in bulk, whilst Central London benefits to a degree - putting growing pressure on the transport network. I think there should be substantial tax breaks to encourage employers to move their activities to Croydon and Outer London; Over a period of time this would take pressure off the suburban rail network by reducing commuting. Meanwhile it seems that construction work converting old office blocks to small apartments is one of our main industries. We in Croydon may be part of the wealthy South East area, but I am sad to see Croydon become a benefits hotspot as all the real jobs move away. Tony S. (retired)
On24/01/2013 10:03:00Neil Bellingham wrote:
Glad to hear our MP being so genuinely positive about this. I too am very pleased to hear this news. Good things can happen to Croydon.
I hope this serves as an incentive to the projects around East Croydon station. Shoppers don't want to cross a wasteland and residents need to see progress not promises.
On26/01/2013 08:14:00Gavin Barwellwrote:
We need to make sure that as many of the jobs as possible go to Croydon people.
There is a proposal to redevelop the Nestle building and part of the southern side of Park Street into a high quality residential scheme. And the Council have a masterplan for the rest of St George's Walk and the surrounding area - which they call Mid Croydon - though I fear that this area is going to take some time to get right.
It's a long time since we had a lot of manufacturing but you are right about office jobs. However the two are linked - if we improve the leisure and retail facilities in the town centre, upgrade the public realm and change perceptions of Croydon, it makes it much more likely that companies will locate here. We also need to grow our small business sector - Jonny Rose's idea to develop our existing tech cluster is well worth pursuing.
It looks like Stanhope Schroders are going to start development on the Gateway site next to East Croydon.
On29/01/2013 16:38:00Anthony Millerwrote:
So as I understand it the plan is to demolish the Whitgift Center and build another Shopping Center. How, exactly will that help? And what happens if they get half way through and stop or just decide to pull the plug. How do we know this will not be a repeat of the eternally derelict Ruskin Square, the never finished IYLO tower or the George’s Walk fiasco again?