The Public Gallery: Is there less to Croydon Village Outlet than meets the eye?


By - Thursday 3rd October, 2013

Botched Croydon Village launch fuels council irritation with Minerva

Croydon’s newest ‘outlet’ opened last month, using the space vacated by Allders on North End. There’s been some dissent about the content of the Croydon Village Outlet. Shoppers expecting high-end brands and a designer retail experience have found it looks more like the inside of an abandoned Allders, but with new clothes on (most of) the shelves.

The outlet is far from a hellhole, and it has won plaudits for its prices and food court. However, sceptical locals have raised suspicions about Minerva’s motivation for opening the store, which is run by flamboyant flash-promiser Marco Cash. Its ‘budget’ nature and slightly exaggerated quality have led some to question the true worth of the investment in the site.

One possible explanation - suspected by some Katharine Street figures - is the fact that an occupied site warrants a higher selling price. The Hammerson-Westfield development includes the Allders site, so at some point someone is going to have to write Minerva a cheque. If the CVO is still open at the time, Hammerson and Westfield could be expected to pay a premium. Similarly, there’s the possibility of a compulsory purchase order (CPO) being used. Depending on the length remaining on the tenant’s lease, a site with a tenant often requires a larger payout than an empty one, as well as compensation for the actual tenant.

Unsurprisingly, there’s talk in Katharine Street of increasing frustration among senior council figures. Sources say they feel that Minerva has barely spoken to them at all, and that the first they heard that Marco Cash was opening the CVO was when it was announced in the local print media. The ‘PR blitz’ which followed promised it would be ‘the Harrods of South London’. Outmanoeuvred, the council couldn’t then publicly refuse 600 new jobs or a new high-class retail establishment. So the process trundled on – until, on opening day, the emperor was discovered to be wearing very few clothes at all.

I put this to Minerva. Were they aware that there was discontent about the store, and that there’s a perception that the CVO might only be there for resale or CPO purposes? On Tuesday, a spokesperson provided this in reply:

It is in no-one’s interests to see an empty department store in the middle of Croydon whilst town centre redevelopment proposals follow a protracted process. Minerva was encouraged by Croydon Council and the landlord to secure a letting. The letting to Croydon Village Outlet ensures this building does not lie dormant as well as reinvigorates the site, and offers much needed local jobs and a retail offering to the people of Croydon.

The point about an empty department store helping no-one is fair, and it’s understandable that the council and Minerva both had an interest in putting something in the Allders site. But until some of the lavish over-promises of Marco Cash are delivered upon, Minerva and Cash (who are separate entities, it should be remembered) will continue to be the target of ire and suspicion over this.

The Riesco Saga, part 256: Jumping before being pushed?

On Tuesday, Croydon Council resigned from the Museums Association. A statement from the MA expressed dismay that this decision was taken before disciplinary measures could be taken against the council. Meanwhile Tim Pollard, Deputy Leader of the council, indicated the council believes the decision to discipline Croydon means any further action by the MA would be a foregone conclusion.

What’s key here is that the decision to resign follows the MA’s conclusion that the council’s actions on Riesco were unethical. The pros and cons of the sell-off are outlined here by Mr Pollard and Sarah Jones, who since then has been selected to fight Croydon Central for Labour. A decision from a respected national body like the MA will not do the cultural credentials of Croydon Council – and Croydon as a town – any favours.

Yesterday, The Guardian followed the Citizen’s lead by inviting Tim Pollard and Hamida Ali, the former Clocktower employee who broke the story in the first place, to discuss the merits and failings of selling off locally-owned art. Debate was spirited and followed accusations by Pollard – later refuted by the MA – that Croydon Council only found out about the disciplinary measures in the press. However, once again neither debater seemed interested in the wider discussion surrounding the ethics of keeping Ming ceramics thousands of miles away from where they originated. The story in Croydon will always be ‘the Tories want to sell off our heritage’ or ‘the Conservatives are raising funds to spend them on other resources’. It is a mark of the closed nature of our local debate that the argument of ‘er, weren’t these priceless artifacts effectively looted from China during the collapse of the Qing dynasty?’ doesn’t seem to get a look in.

Riesco being in the headlines again reminds us that the money raised by the sell-off is supposed to be spent on the Fairfield Halls. Expect the Public Gallery to keep an eye on that particular piece of ringfencing in the coming months.

Got a tip or a query you’d like explored in the Public Gallery? and he’ll see what he can do.

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Mario Creatura

    Nice piece Tom. The statement from Minerva is worth deconstructing:

    “It is in no-one’s interests to see an empty department store in the
    middle of Croydon whilst town centre redevelopment proposals follow a
    protracted process.”

    No argument, but the implicit assumption here is scepticism that Westfield/Hammerson won’t build on time. A damaging message to peddle from a group wanting to make a quick buck?

    “Minerva was encouraged by Croydon Council and the
    landlord to secure a letting.”

    Again, a grain of truth in this. But do you think the Council really wanted a substandard version of the Primark across the road? Something is better than nothing but with little stock and unrealistically high PR beforehand, it was always going to disappoint. And it has, sadly.

    “The letting to Croydon Village Outlet
    ensures this building does not lie dormant as well as reinvigorates the
    site, and offers much needed local jobs and a retail offering to the
    people of Croydon.”

    Impossible to argue with the creation of new jobs. But doesn’t exactly answer Tom’s question – are they trying to make a quick pile of cash at the long-term expense of the Westield/Hammerson development?

    The ‘Slippery PR alarm’ should be ringing in everyone’s heads right now…