A Strong Voice for Croydon Central - Gavin Barwell MP
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Labour councillor attacks Westfield and Hammerson
19/09/2013 06:32:00


Regular readers of this blog will know that I believe the announcement by Westfield and Hammerson, two of the country’s top retail developers, that they will invest around £1.5 billion transforming the Whitgift Centre and then Centrale is the best news our town has had in my lifetime. Not only will it once again make Croydon one of the top retail destinations in the country, creating thousands of jobs in the process, it will also act as a catalyst to other investment in our town.

It’s therefore deeply depressing to find a Labour councillor looking this gift horse in the mouth.

While browsing Twitter yesterday, I found Cllr Tim Godfrey questioning Westfield and Hammerson’s commitment to Croydon. “When they [Westfield and Hammerson] buy some land then we can believe”, he said. So far, Westfield and Hammerson have spent nearly £200 million buying Centrale and a part-interest in the Whitgift Centre. You would have thought a local councillor might know that. Apparently not.

He went on to argue that, “a CPO [Compulsory Purchase Order] should be the last resort, not Plan A”. This really is an incredibly stupid thing to say.

A CPO allows local councils to buy land without the owner’s consent provided that land is necessary for a scheme which is in the public interest. Without the threat of one in this case, the Westfield/Hammerson investment in our town is very unlikely to happen anytime soon. As I mentioned above, Westfield and Hammerson own Centrale and a stake in the Whitgift Centre and they have an agreement with the Whitgift Foundation, which owns the freehold of the Whitgift Centre, but they need to acquire the former Anglo-Irish Bank interests in the Whitgift Centre which now sit with the Irish Government and Minerva’s interest in the Allders building. Without the threat of a CPO, both of these organisations could refuse to sell unless Westfield and Hammerson pay way above the odds, which they couldn’t do because it would make the scheme unviable. So if the Council refused to use its CPO powers for the time being as Tim suggests, it would basically be a recipe for nothing happening and our town continuing to decline.

This is such an important issue for the future of our town that we need to know as a matter of urgency whether Tim was expressing a personal opinion or whether he was speaking on behalf of the Labour Group as a whole. If the former, it’s bad enough; if the latter, it’s catastrophic because with elections coming up next May and the result in the balance it will lead Westfield and Hammerson to question whether they have the Council’s support.

I find it depressing beyond words that when things are finally beginning to look up for our town, a local councillor can say something so stupid.

PS I should make it clear that I am a Governor of the Whitgift Foundation, which clearly has an interest in this matter. However I haven’t taken part in any of its dealings with Westfield and Hammerson to ensure that I am free to represent the interests of my constituents – and in any case there is no fundamental conflict of interests: the Whitgift Foundation wants to see the Whitgift Centre restored to its former glory because it relies on income from the Centre to fund its charitable activities but in this case what’s good for the Foundation is good for the town too.


Good to see Cllr Tony Newman, the Leader of the Labour Group, disowning Cllr Godfrey’s comments in The Croydon Advertiser today. Nonetheless the fact that a senior Labour councillor can make such damaging remarks is another reason why it would be a mistake to put them back in charge of the Council next May.

Comment on this blog


Readers' Comments

On 25/09/2013 11:51:00 Tony Pearson wrote:
This is the same Labour Councillor who is totally opposed to delivering regeneration, including a supermarket, for New Addington despite the vast majority of local residents calling for this investment and new facilities. Labour in Croydon do not believe in giving people what they want. Labour in Croydon will not deliver for Croydon.
On 25/09/2013 12:30:00 Councillor Timothy Godfrey wrote:
Sad to see such party political spinning from the MP for Croydon Central.

The quickest route to successfully starting on the Westfield development would be for the various land owners to agree a commercial deal between them.

A CPO can be costly, time consuming and can of course be lost.

If Minerva (the owners of the former Allders site) and the new Croydon Village vigorously oppose the CPO, they have a chance to win, alongside the fact that any vigorously contested CPO could take up to 18 months to progress.

I simply wish to protect the interests of Croydon Council Tax Payers by making sure that all commercial options for buying the land are followed through first. The quickest and easiest route. That must be plan 'A'.

Plan 'B' must be to use CPO powers.

I am glad that Gavin Barwell noted the significant conflict of interest he has in the PS. We should be clear that this CPO will not just 'enable' the Westfield Development, it will also consolidate a myriad of land holdings into the long term freehold of the Whitgift Foundation. As Gavin Barwell is a 'Director' of the Foundation, he is using his public position to significantly benefit that organisation. A CPO, of course, might be the only route that will benefit the Whitgift Foundation.

I find it very depressing when a local MP cannot civilly debate the route to redeveloping Croydon, but instead chooses to use words like 'stupid' to spin his and the Whitgift Foundations position.

Croydon should be so much better than this.

Timothy Godfrey

Labour Councillor for Selhurst Ward and Shadow Cabinet Member for Culture, Sport and Libraries

On 25/09/2013 17:05:00 Gavin Barwell MP wrote:

Happy to publish your response, but it contains three further errors.

Of course, the best option would be for the various land owners to agree a commercial deal. Negotiations are ongoing. But given that at least one of these land owners has its site on its books for a value well above the current market value, they may not succeed - and they are much more likely to succeed if there is a clear threat of a CPO.

Second, a CPO should not take anything like 18 months.

Third, the Whitgift Foundation is already the freeholder for virtually the entire site (the only exception being part of the Allders building).

On 26/09/2013 09:29:00 Councillor Timothy Godfrey wrote:
Once again, another Tory seeks to mis lead and over simplify. This time Councillor Pearson.

New Addington is probably the best local shopping parade in Croydon and also has a vibrant market.

Once again, the Tories take a simplistic view of regeneration for New Addington. The wrong type of regeneration could end up with Central Parade dying and only being left with betting shops, estate agents and chicken shops.

The right kind of regeneration could see New Addington renewed properly with a new swimming pool and leisure centre, protected public open space and a larger food store.

Last week on the doorstep in New Addington it was very clear that local people got what is at stake here. The wrong sized supermarket, or the wrong operator would impact on the existing parade dramatically. The New Economics Foundation has shown that a large supermarket increases employment only for a limited time, in that time, locally owned shops use up savings, before closing in the face of competition.

What is wrong with actually asking the people who live in New Addington what they want their High Street to look like 5 years after a supermarket is opened? Get too large a supermarket and the whole parade will go in 5 years.

What supermarket group would people like? The Tory Council seems wedded to Tesco. Perhaps local people would prefer Morrisons or Asda or Sainsbury?

IF the Council was doing its job properly it would properly survey what businesses already exist in New Addington and which of them would be likely to survive in different scenarios.

For Tories to make up false positions about my views on regeneration is highly amusing, but serious. What the Council does in different parts of the borough will impact over many decades to come.

It is important to get those decisions right, and to have an actual conversation with residents about the pros and the cons.

Finally, I will be working as hard as possible to ensure that the Council builds a new leisure centre in New Addington, and does not wait to try and get Tesco to pay for it.

New Addington and Croydon Borough deserves better than this.

On 26/09/2013 13:22:00 Anthony Miller wrote:
Are we not allowed to use the word stupid now?

I think there is a place for incivility. Particularly when talking to Inside Pravda

On 26/09/2013 16:23:00 Kez wrote:
Hi Tim & Gavin

I think this is when local businesses, residents and investors begin getting nervous and loose faith in the Westfield/Hammerson deal ever happening. When they see Labour & Conservative members debating on the best course of action. Whilst the debate is healthy, more noise needs to be coming from the developers not politicians and the council. Its also sad that there is not cross party support, not that I am either a Labour or Conservative supporter myself.

I think what is needed is more clarity from Westfield/Hammerson and for them to speak up more about what they are doing - to give confidence to businesses, residents & investors that this is definitely happening. Otherwise it is another broken promise that Croydon definitely does not need.

I am hopeful that with Westfield/Hammerson planning application in October 2013 (which will not be delayed again - fingers crossed) they will have far greater publicity for their plans with more details and visualization along with a solid plan for how Westfield/Hammerson are dealing with (or dealt with) the ownership/land issues they are facing. This, along with the possibility of an announcement of a resolve with Anglo-Irish or Minerva interests put to bed would be welcome.

On 27/09/2013 12:15:00 Cllr Tony Pearson wrote:
How insightful Cllr Godfrey's comments are. Anyone who follows his twitter feed will know that he has been very open about his opposition to a supermarket in New Addington. A supermarket, I would remind him, that the residents have been calling for for years and that has the support of the majority of local business. He misleads readers by saying the Council is 'wedded' to Tesco despite it being clear that all options are being considered. Let me state the facts so even Tim can understand. Plans will be brought forward shortly and residents consulted. Planning applications will then be submitted with very clear plans to build a NEW leisure centre before closing the current swimming pool. Only then will a new supermarket, not a megastore, proceed with a retailer yet to be agreed. The Council is committed to delivering what residents want not what politicians think they want. The difference between Labour and Conservative is clear. We consult, listen and deliver whereas Labour decide, consult and ignore. New Addington will have a new leisure centre but we will not close the current one until that is ready. Compare that to the former Labour administration, including Cllr Godfrey, that shut Water Palace with no replacement. Labour did not care about closing that facility like they didn't care about closing Crossfield or selling car parks. Labour didn't care about raising Council Tax by 27% in one single year. Truth is the Labour party in Croydon talk a lot but deliver nothing. Croydon cannot afford Labour.
On 08/10/2013 20:40:00 Susan Oliver wrote:
As I'm sure you'll agree, Gavin, Croydon needs a robust democracy, which means differing points of view. I don't doubt that a CPO will be required to purchase Minerva but I am grateful for Cllr Godfrey for reminding us that this is a commercial transaction from which H&W will financially benefit. While you did tweet me that the H&W will pay for the CPO, I doubt they will pay every penny. I have read elsewhere that the Council has already spent considerable time sorting out deeds, which means taxpayers have already helped out this big business. This is troubling.

I also have to question why you are so concerned about one politician's opinion, expressed in a tweet. Certainly H&W are accustomed to a varying stances, both from pols and the public. It's not in Croydon's best interest that our politicians are discouraged from voicing dissension against the project and it seems, in this blog piece, you are being overly-cautious about the developers' sensitivities. It makes me worry about how our town is being treated in this deal and if our politicians aren't being muzzled behind-the-scenes.

Thank you.




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