How Hammerfield Can Make A Sustainable Croydon

By - Monday 4th February, 2013

A “Hammerfield” development at the heart of Croydon could be a solution to the town’s image problem – but not in the way you might think

The excellent recent article by James Naylor on the Hammerson-Westfield development in Croydon highlighted some important points surrounding the fact that we should not be reliant on the development to provide a long term regeneration of Croydon. I propose that a 21st century developer such as Westfield strives, by its nature, to do just that.

If you were to ask any ordinary townsfolk about what ‘sustainability’ means you would expect to receive a response based on the environment, highlighting the pointlessness of solar power on our grey island or the ugliness of offshore wind farms. However, sustainability can have three meanings; alongside environmental sustainability, economic and social sustainability are high on most property developers’ agendas. Whilst economic sustainability is easy to measure, the question of ‘social sustainability’ within urban development – that is, does it improve quality of life, the ‘feel’ of an area, and happiness amongst citizens – is harder to quantify. Yet for developers such as Westfield and Hammerson, creating a development which does not only improve the retail experience for businesses and consumers but also creating a physical improvement in one’s experience of a town is increasingly important – and it is Croydon which is next in line to reap the benefits.

Westfield London (Photo by Panhard)

First and foremost, it is important not to pretend that a property developer such as Westfield is investing in the town simply to create a better place to live; by their very nature as a developer and retail manager their aim is to create a profit. However, ingrained within their responsibility as a major company is to provide community benefits to the town, and what is proposed for Croydon in particular is a more pleasant public space, combined with a new residential area and greater connectivity to transport. In more general terms, developing Croydon as a more pleasant experience is a win-win situation; if people feel safer coming to Croydon, if there is more to do (Westfield proposes restaurants and a bowling alley within their scheme) then visiting Croydon can become a family day out for residents of south London, Surrey, and beyond, and Westfield and Hammerson will gain greater profits; certainly not something that would have been envisaged while watching burning buildings in the summer of 2011.

Creating a greater consumer experience is just one way in which Westfield can create a greater Croydon experience. Creating a more attractive space for business, whether large corporations or the SMEs imagined by the wonderful Tech City plans is vital to the long term sustainability of Croydon. Value is typically generated and destroyed through the transformation of space. This generally means a change of both the type of use and intensity of use of an area is needed. This is why it is important that Westfield does not just regenerate the Whitgift Centre as a shopping centre alone. Creating a mixed-use development, with residential and leisure uses, should create a different atmosphere within the town centre and crucially may change investors’ view of the town as an area with long term potential. This may mean a greater willingness to put down roots within the town, meaning more money is spent on architecture and recruitment from the local area, rather than a simple promotion of Croydon as an ideal stop between Gatwick and London; rather, Croydon is invested in on its own merits.

The Oracle, Reading (Photo by Sebastian Ballard)

Sadly, central Croydon has and most likely will continue to have the image of somewhere that is not particularly safe to work and shop in for the short to mid-term future. Security is becoming increasingly important for developers as it is key to providing that ‘atmosphere’ they want to reflect a town and draw in consumers. Fortunately, one of the jewels in the crown of Hammerson is the Oracle Shopping Centre in Reading, a shining example of security by design, and much can be learnt from this. Notable for its lack of hidden areas, its large windows increasing visibility and the almost complete lack of police presence, the Oracle generates a feeling of security and eradicates the uncertainty that can occur if one were to encounter police presence in a town centre on a relaxing shopping trip out. It is almost certain that Hammerson will bring these ideas to the development, and this has the potential to banish the tired and lazy vision of Croydon as crime ridden.

So, does ‘Hammerfield’ have the potential to go the distance and, importantly, to give Croydon the long term sustainable growth it needs? If we look at another example of a Westfield development, Stratford, the signs are promising. Obviously, Stratford has the advantage of post-Olympic fame; yet it is the shopping centre which is going to keep drawing people back to visit the area. Already, University College London is sizing up Stratford as a location for a new campus. I would argue that Croydon has even greater potential than Stratford; there is a greater history, equal or better transport links, and a larger local population. If Westfield and Hammerson deliver on their promises, and if Croydon buys into a greater overall regeneration of the town centre – the Tech City initiatives and the positive soundbites from Mayor Boris Johnson are a good start – then there is no reason that Croydon cannot have a promising, and most importantly, long term, future ahead of it.

Tom Lickley

Tom Lickley

Contributing a variety of roles to the Citizen since early 2013, Tom now focuses upon regeneration, urbanism and real estate writing. He is a strategic communications consultant specialising in the real estate sector, and counts a number of the world's largest investment and fund management companies amongst his clients.

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  • Liz Sheppard-Jones

    Great piece :-)

  • Janet Pang

    Well done!

  • Alessandro Zambelli

    Also, sustainability has come to stand in for a range of venerable and subtle terms in a somewhat desperate attempt to steal some credibility for professions which have been haemorrhaging it – architecture in particular, but economics and politics too. This does no favours to those professions or to sustainability in, as you point out, any of its various flavours.
    I would go further in your critique of the motives of developers. I’m not at all sure that building mega-shopping centres can ever provide “a physical improvement in one’s experience of a town” – you actually have to be in the town to experience it, not hermetically sealed within one of a series of more or less identical shopping centres. It’s very easy to forget that a shopping centre is emphatically not public space – shoppers and shop owners are only ever there at the sufferance of that mall’s owners.
    I’m not against shopping centres per se (see my Comment here but scale is important and so is detail. I’m afraid the photographs in the article, presumably intended to show the modern shopping environment at its best, reveal instead an architecture with little understanding of either. On the one hand we have a featureless monolithic architecture concealing a homogenous, stultifying (and of course occasionally
    frantic) shopping experience and on the other a stage-set, toy urbanism concealing the very same thing. In the end neither is sustainable because the making of towns and cities is usually, and at its best, an accretive process that requires time, hard graft and love.

    • Kake

      I share your concerns. The existing Westfield malls in London feel to me like big boxes plonked down with little integration into the surrounding context (aside, of course, from the transport links).

  • Neale

    Been to the Oracle many times, I was working for Mercedes Brighton, The Dealer Principle was a Reading FC fan so I photographed Sir John Madejski many times in the Directors Box before a home game. It was one one those assigments one is never ever late for. So I would chill at the Oracle, its is very good, brill in summer. Built on a old power generating site, the slipways were reformed into a main canal / river with cascading steps surrounded by the well known food-outlet brands. I say divert the River Wandle like an oxbow lake right through both adjoining projects.

  • Jake Roman

    Interesting read Tom mate well done. Hope alls well.

  • Farhan Hasan

    Great piece Lickers