The twain shall meet: how Westfield could bring East and West Croydon together

By - Tuesday 18th November, 2014

While East Croydon is east, and West Croydon is west, the Westfield development may draw them together, writes Tom Black

Image by the Croydon Partnership, used with permission.

I wasn’t particularly excited about Westfield at first. Don’t get me wrong – as shopping centres go, Westfields are nice places. But they’re still shopping centres, and I’m not much of a shopper.

So the announcement of ‘the Croydon Partnership‘ didn’t make me dance in the street. A billion quid investment is nice, but if all we get is more shops – even if they’re ‘nicer’ shops – then colour me underwhelmed.

But that’s not all we’re getting.

I started to get excited about Westfield when I saw a stylised impression of the possible flow of pedestrians around Croydon. If all goes to plan – a big if, I know – we could see a transformed flow of foot-traffic in the town centre. For Westfield, that’s good business: punters coming in off the trains at East and West Croydon, and buying lots of whatever it is people buy in shopping centres.

But a side-effect – deliberate, I hope – is a pleasant, easy-to-follow route between the two biggest central stations. East and West Croydon are currently unfairly divided – not by a Soviet-built wall, but an unfriendly road system. Directions between them involve fiddly hand gestures and a sense that the journey is longer than it actually is. Yes, the tram links the two, but how many people consider two stations to be close together if they have to board another kind of public transport to travel between them?

The Croydon Partnership is – to my knowledge – unable to move tectonic plates or compress space with some kind of H. G. Wellsian device. Geography and physics make ‘combining’ East and West Croydon impossible. But a clearer, easier route between Croydon’s two biggest stations is the next best thing. The new exit from East Croydon takes people in a straight line down Lansdowne Road, across Wellesley Road into Westfield itself – where a clear, rain-safe, 24-hour route extends all the way to West Croydon.

Outsiders will see Croydon as we know it to be: diverse, multicultural, vibrant

This east-west link has the potential to expand what we think of as ‘the town centre’. The potential to make ‘Croydon’ mean more than a walk down George Street or into the Whitgift Centre. The potential for residents of West Croydon to feel the centre welcomes them. Outsiders will at last see the town as we know it to be: Croydon, the diverse, multicultural, and bustling transport hub of southeast London, with the Overground, Thameslink and Tramlink running through one town; a great shopping experience in a vibrant urban area.

What of the other possible outcome? Is there not a risk that creating more accessible links between our brighter, shinier new town centre and London Road will not achieve the cross-border harmony we’d like to see? What if, instead, the new appeal of London Road unleashes a whirlwind of property speculation on that venerable street, and local residents find themselves priced out?

That’s a topic for another article, and a dilemma for another time. The answers will not be easy – but we’d be wise to start thinking. In the meantime, I’m going shopping to see what the fuss is about.

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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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