Another step closer to work starting on Westfield/Hammerson scheme’s to redevelop the Whitgift Centre
Yesterday Croydon Council signed a Section 106 agreement with the Croydon Partnership formed between two of the country’s leading developers, Westfield and Hammerson.
Section 106 agreements set out the financial contributions developers make to mitigate the impact of their schemes.
Under the terms of yesterday’s agreement, Westfield and Hammerson will be required to deliver a range of initiatives to ensure that as many as possible of the thousands of jobs that will be created by their development go to Croydon residents, particularly those who are long term unemployed. They will provide apprenticeships and internships, support local contractors and back new business start-ups by providing test trading spaces in the shopping centre. With the economy recovering fast, unemployment in the town is already falling sharply and this development is a huge opportunity to reduce it even further.
The agreement also provides for significant investment in Croydon’s transport system. Westfield and Hammerson will provide £15 million for enhancements to the tram system, £10 million for additional bus services, £2.5 million for local highways improvements and £1.6 million for sustainable transport. Streets and public spaces in North End will benefit from a revamp with £2.1 million spent on new lighting and other environmental improvements and £150,000 has been allocated for public art within the scheme.
And Section 106 payments are only one of three ways in which the developers will be contributing to our town (beyond the £1 billion investment involved in acquiring and redeveloping the site), the others being Section 278 payments for the highways works in the immediate area and Community Infrastructure Levy payments towards wider infrastructure improvements.
The signing of the Section 106 agreement is the final stage in the planning process and so a big step towards construction getting underway. One major step remains and that is for Westfield and Hammerson to acquire the remainder of the site. They are already well on the way. They have signed an agreement with the Whitgift Foundation (of whom I am a governor, though I have taken no part in their discussions with Westfield and Hammerson in order that I can speak freely on behalf of my constituents), who own the freehold of most of the site. They have bought the lease from Royal London Asset Management and they own the Centrale shopping centre on the other side of North End. They still need to acquire the sub-lease to the Whitgift Centre, which used to be owned by Anglo Irish Bank but is now in the hands of the Irish Government following the banking crisis; and the freehold to part of the Allders building, which is owned by Minerva. They can either acquire these interests on the open market or, if those who currently own them seek to frustrate the future of our town by refusing to sell, the Council can use its powers to issue a Compulsory Purchase Order. I hope we will hear more news on this front in the next few weeks. There is a huge amount of work going on behind the scenes, in which both the Conservative administration at the Town Hall (who deserve a huge amount of credit for getting us this far), the Mayor of London’s office and I are heavily involved.
When Westfield and Hammerson announced their intention to invest in Croydon just over a year ago, a lot of people were sceptical. I don’t blame them - I’ve lost count of the number of plans for the town centre I’ve seen announced only for nothing then to happen during my time in Croydon politics. But yesterday’s agreement is further evidence that this time it’s for real.