The devil is in the detail as we wait for Westfield to arrive

By - Thursday 30th November, 2017

The concluding part of a look at the implications the arrival of Westfield have for Croydon

Photo public domain.

The first part of this article can be found here.

There is much evidence that the tower blocks planned for the new centre are not suitable for family living. Where they may be suitable, it will be because room sizes are larger than the minimum required under planning rules, and there are several different living spaces, substantial community and indoor play facilities, and access to safe and supervised open-space play facilities.

An alternative to the proposed tower blocks would be to redesign the scheme to build housing on top of the shopping centre. One suggestion is to build small blocks along Poplar Walk, by moving Marks & Spencer into the former Allders building, rather than building a store for it by demolishing the existing one. That would then leave it open to have retail on the bottom of the current M&S store and housing on the upper floors.

The number of non-construction jobs now promised has risen to 7,000, although with no explanation of how this is going to be achieved. Councillor Jamie Audsley has said his support for the scheme was conditional on all employees in the centre being paid the London Living Wage. This will require the council to insist that the developers enter a legal agreement that in managing the construction and post-completion management of the complex, all businesses will be required under their contracts, leases and rental agreements to pay the London Living Wage.

Children’s play: more provision needed

The provision of amenity and open and green spaces is minimal and unimaginative. Councillor Bernadette Khan was quite right to insist that there be improvements, especially for children’s play. She suggested a water fountain feature that has become so popular with children elsewhere. That is just one possibility. More external amenity space is also needed for the residents, and if homes are spread across the top of the centre, it might be possible for some to have their own small private garden area.

Two types of community space are needed. If the tower blocks are built, each one will need indoor community space for activities, parties and a common meeting area for residents.

The other community space is for the public and users of the centre as well as for residents. At the moment, the only suggestion made by the developers is for a cinema, which is not needed given that the town centre already has a Vue cinema. Alternative suggestions include a swimming pool and a performance hall for activities, dances, concerts and plays. These would be an added attraction for people to come to Croydon not just for shopping, but to stay longer into the evening, as well as to attract an audience that will not be dominated by the need to down as much alcohol as possible. There are ideas for a large green space, which could be looked after by community gardeners.

Traffic and car parking are key

The issues relating to traffic and car parking are complex. Over 3,000 car-parking spaces will be provided for the customers of the shopping centre. Large numbers of cars are expected to come up from Kent, Surrey and Sussex. This traffic could cause considerable problems for the south-north flow of traffic along Wellesley Road. There will be extra crossover points and traffic lights, further slowing traffic down, including the many buses going north.

The only residents who will have car parking are those with disabled driver blue badges. The number of spaces for parking car club vehicles will be minimal, despite the fact that many residents may need to use a car occasionally. There are also issues to be considered about deliveries to the residents in the tower blocks, parking for their visitors, and for doctors, nurses and care workers visiting residents with health problems.

Much of what the developers will be required to do in terms of planning gain for other improvements to the town centre will be covered by a Section 106 agreement (planning obligations). As one councillor commented, “The devil is in the detail”. The councillors need to see the draft wording to be satisfied that it covers everything to be done without ambiguity, and then discuss it in public at the committee.

The devil is most definitely in the detail

The officers say that the detail will be looked at by the council’s design panel of architects and others. It is important that the panel’s assessment and recommendations are presented publicly at the committee too.

In my statement to the committee, I mentioned that there was a possibility that the downturn of the town centre during the demolition and construction phase may lead to an increase in crime or worse. This has happened over the decades in many areas subject to large-scale redevelopment. After the committee meeting was over, Steve Yewman of Westfield said that he agreed with me, and explained in general terms what is being done to plan for this with the police and others.

Could the plug be pulled on the scheme?

Whether the developers and the council will listen to ideas for positive improvements to the details of the scheme remains to be seen. But of course there are many uncertainties that could result in the plug being pulled on the scheme.

The Westfield/Hammerson partnership could implode due to the tensions linked to their complex multi-projects elsewhere regarding funding.

The cost of construction may continue to rise, making the scheme less economically attractive to shareholders.

A further quantitative change in people’s retail behaviour, in particular the rise of online retail,  may make developments like this one less attractive.

An economic collapse triggered by events elsewhere in the world, and/or by the negative effects of the Brexit process, could spell the end for this kind of ambitious scheme.

Finally, the partnership may fail to have major department store operators commit to tenancies, given that both Marks & Spencer and John Lewis have announced that they are curbing their expansion and may well close down existing stores.

If the redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre collapses, then we will be left at best with a considerably run-down shopping centre, and at worst a hole in the ground. There will need to be plan B if one of these outcomes happens.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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