Croydon’s retail heart transplant

By - Wednesday 18th December, 2013

We’ve heard the soundbites and read the press releases, but how exactly will the ‘Hammerfield’ development improve the borough? Tom Lickley takes a surgical look at what it really means for Croydon

The new pathway through the centre of the development promises to link Wellesley Road to North End via a 24 hour walkway. Image courtesy of Westfield Group.

The positivity surrounding  the approval of Westfield and Hammerson’s plans for the regeneration of the retail core of the town mostly focused upon the development itself. Aside from providing a pleasant place to spend a Saturday, what can both Croydon residents and businesses expect the benefits to be from the £1 billion investment?

The housing market may heat up

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the addition of a major new attraction to the town centre, house prices throughout the borough can expect to increase at a quicker rate than expected. For instance, a look at how house prices in the boroughs of Hammersmith & Fulham and Newham have been affected demonstrates the impact a retail development can have. In the former, house prices in the year before and following the opening of Westfield London in October 2008 increased at a higher rate (12.79%) than both London (3.10%) and England & Wales (-4.74%) averages (Source: Rightmove) – although of course the data is taken from the start of the financial crisis. Knight Frank research suggests the local housing market has benefited from a “Westfield effect” – with property values up 47% overall since the opening of the shopping centre. In 2012 in particular, the housing market locally saw an annual price growth rate of 9.2% – twice that of the London average.

In Newham too, the Daily Telegraph noted in July that ‘homeowners in the 14 postal districts closest to the Olympic Park have seen the value of their property rise by an average £92,000 in the last eight years’. Of course, whilst the Olympics themselves have helped drive this, the article cites the fact that it is the major shopping mall (Westfield Stratford City) which is serving the area over the long term, rather than the Olympic Park which, while impressive, will only create a fraction of the jobs and investment Westfield has.

Of course, some may be concerned about the effect of a hot housing market in Croydon, particularly those looking to get on to the property ladder. Whilst it is true that Croydon may become a more expensive area to live relative to how it is now, high prices usually suggest high demand – meaning more residential developers are attracted to the town, the new development having already contributed to the building of the tower at Berkeley Homes’ Saffron Square. Knight Frank research suggests that despite Westfield being a contributor to house price increase, sales performance among new builds is still good; 68% of the 843 units under construction in the first half of 2013 have been sold in Hammersmith and Fulham, slightly above the 62% average for inner London off plan sales.

The proposed new residential towers are intended replace the existing office blocks, increasing housing provision and radically changing the appearance of Wellesley Road. Image courtesy of Westfield Group.

Public transport infrastructure may improve

The work being undertaken at East Croydon station, which included the official opening of the new bridge and walkway on 5th December, will benefit the Westfield/Hammerson development. The new walkway through Lansdowne Road will cut the time taken to get between Croydon’s main transport hub and its main retail hub considerably, and also link East and West Croydon station via a 24-hour walkway through the centre. The other options considered in the East Croydon masterplan – including the building of an extra platform and the improvement of the public realm around the station – may now come to fruition with the influence of Westfield and Hammerson, as may the plans to improve West Croydon bus station and surrounding public realm.

Indeed, looking towards Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush and Stratford, the transport improvements have been considerable; White City tube station was modernised, Wood Lane underground station was built and Shepherd’s Bush underground station was rebuilt in the former, whilst Stratford has benefited from considerable development of its train station, and even pre-Olympics saw visitor numbers in the tube station increase from 29.8 million in 2010 to 48.6 million in 2011 – an increase of over 60% (Source: TfL Consumer Metrics 2011). There will also be £10 million worth of investment in buses, and £15 million worth in the tram network.

Aside from the residual effects, the fact that Croydon is already well connected – arguably better than both Stratford and Shepherd’s Bush were before the investment by Westfield – suggests the town may be able to compete with and even better their fellow Westfield towns. The proximity of the M25 may be crucial – the shopping development in Croydon, and hence the town itself, could be a retail focal point for a significant portion of the south-east of England.

The new George Street courtyard is promised to add an extra dimension to the street’s entrance, creating a new public square. Image courtesy of Westfield Group.

Local economy may benefit

New office developments such as the redeveloped Interchange have already cited the investment by Westfield and Hammerson in their marketing material. Since the announcement of the joint venture in January 2013, important businesses, including Trinity College London (which has taken up a lease at AMP House), will be further attracted. As has been the case at Stratford, where Chobham Academy recently opened and University College London is interested in locating a new campus, the possibility for educational establishments to relocate to Croydon has increased.

Visitor numbers and jobs should increase too; in Westfield Stratford City for instance, 47 million visitors were attracted to the centre in the first year of operation, creating 10,000 jobs and generating £500 million worth of sales (Source: Retail Gazette). Whilst there will be understandable concern amongst small, local businesses and retailers as to the effect of having such a large scale development on their doorstep, the outline plans for the development show that routes will direct people towards Old Town, and the residual benefits from transport – making West Croydon more user friendly – may enhance businesses in London Road.

Certainly, whilst the new development may bring extra quality, unlike in Stratford and Shepherd’s Bush it is replacing an existing shopping centre – so fears of a swathe of new shops arriving and destroying existing businesses are reduced. In addition to this, the diverse nature of Old Town and London Road in offering a different shopping experience may indeed capitalise on the expected surge in visitor numbers – if, of course, they market themselves to new visitors correctly.

More than a shopping centre

The evidence suggests that having this scale of development can bring considerable benefits to the surrounding areas. Whilst the new development will bring a much needed boost to the town’s retail core, it is the residual benefits which will really make an impact on residents’ lives. In addition, the modernisation of the centre of town, with the demolishing of aging office buildings including Centre Tower and replacement by brand new buildings, which one can expect to be environmentally efficient and technologically advanced – but still retaining much loved facades such as Allders – will make a greater immediate impression on potential new residents and businesses than the statistics and details will.

The centre of Croydon will look fresh, attractive and appealing – certainly don’t underestimate the influence cosmetic change alone will have.

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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  • Anne Giles

    Nice one. Very positive.

  • David Klein

    Great piece, look forward to reading this paper as Croydon regeneration gathers pace.