Whitgift Centre redevelopment will be painful, disruptive of thousands of lives, put jobs at risk, and jeopardise businesses jeopardised

In her closing remarks at today’s sitting of the Whitgift Centre CPO Croydon resident Susan Oliver stated that ‘The proposal on the table is too painful for the people of Croydon.  It disrupts thousands of lives, jobs are risked, business is jeopardised, and the town centre is put into flux.   We should not be asked to bear these large burdens.’

Statement to Westfield CPO Public Enquiry – 5/3/15    Susan Oliver

Thank you for letting me to speak at this enquiry.

I have many objections to the proposal but I have boiled them down to my most important concerns.  And the most important by far is that this project would be

  • Too painful for the public
    1. I think the public has been under-informed about how painful the project will be.
    2. The proposed project is in the town centre, which is a place we go to and try to enjoy ourselves and the project would make it difficult to do that for a long period of time.
    3. It would be huge disruption to the centre and create a very large eye-sore. It would bring down the atmosphere of the town.
    4. There are already a number of large construction projects in town – Stanhope Schroeder, Menta.  We’re also anticipating the reconstruction of the Royal Mail building and the apartment building in Queen’s Gardens.  This proposal is reliant on even more construction such as the Waddon fly-over and new tram lines.  How much construction can the public take?  Already it is getting wearing.
    5. Also concerned about aggravation to pedestrian and vehicular traffic, particularly its impact on bus and tram drivers. Their work is already tough enough.
    6. Particularly in a low income borough, many of us have lives that are already difficult and this project would make life even more grim.
  • Whitgift Centre –
    1. I think Croydon public is very attached to Whitgift Centre. It’s voting with its wallet – the Whitgift Centre posted its best Christmas ever in 2014.   People like hanging out there – Costa Coffee and Starbucks are usually full.   Many high-fashion retailers are still operating there so the Whitgift Centre is still a happening place.
    2. We know it wouldn’t compete in international circles but it’s perfectly adequate and appropriate for Croydon. Structurally safe and sound.
    3. Yes, there are some spots that could be improved so make changes, tart it up but nothing can convince me we need to bulldoze the whole thing
    4. Great thing about Whitgift is that there a mixture of stores that reflect the economic reality of the town. You’ve got M&S Food – posh grocery store – jewelry stores, a few high-end places and you’ve got Poundland, and lower end stores.   That’s important because that’s the reality of Croydon.
    5. The Whitgift Centre is a very positive asset to the town – it is part and parcel of the town. It is Croydon.  After 50 years it’s one of our best-known brands and buildings.   Getting rid of such an important Croydon icon would be against our best interest.
    6. If Croydon went with Westfield, we’d be just one of three Westfields – possibly more if they build elsewhere. And we would lose what is different and unique to Croydon.
  • My concerns about the proposed mall
    1. I think it has a very opulent appearance and represents a lifestyle a lot of Croydonians cannot afford.
    2. Because of that, I think it would look out of place and that it would alienate people; people may think “this isn’t my town anymore”. This would be risky in a low income borough – I think it would increase feelings of disenfranchisement, which is a word that came up often after the 2011 riots as one of the probable causes of the riots.
    3. Has more to do with Westfield promoting its brand than it does with fitting in with the Town Centre.
    4. Concerned how it will host lower-end stores – in other words How is Poundland going to look in that place?
    5. In a broader sense, I realise it would offer a high-end shopping experience, people can already easily get that by hopping on a train and going up to the West End or Oxford Street.
  • My biggest concerns about tearing down Whitgift Centre
    1. Many Croydon residents depend on jobs in the Centre. Again, this is a low-income borough and people need their jobs.

These employees are not able to seek compensation from the CPO so they will inevitably suffer the hardest.   They’re also looking at a 3-year hiatus for those jobs to be replaced – another hardship for them.

  1. Shutting down the Whitgift Centre for three years would be very very hard for the public. It would be like shutting down Trafalgar Square or Covent Garden.  It would be dis-spiriting and has the real potential of angering the public.  I think people would get tired very quickly of such a large construction site in the middle of town.
  2. I’m concerned about the loss of shoppers during the project because who wants to come around a huge construction site? So fewer shoppers would impact the remaining shops as well the shops that had to move out of Whitgift.
  3. This would be a double-whammy and could bring about a real downturn that we be hard to stop. We’d also have to worry about crime and gang activity.  The Police couldn’t hold it all together for long.
  4. In regard to the actual demolition of the Whitgift Centre: how many truckloads will it require to take the Centre away? We’re not talking hundreds, we’re talking a couple thousands of truckloads of refuse being taken away.  That’s going to create major traffic snarls.  And you couldn’t do that work in the mornings when both Lower Addiscombe Road/St james’s Road  and Brighton Road are bumper-to-bumper.
  5. With all this aggravation and frustration from construction, it’s reasonable to worry about where those emotions will be vented. It is possible that domestic rates may increase, which is particularly worrying given that the Croydon Family Justice Centre is still only open 24 hours per week during office hours.
  • In regard to the 3-phase plan for construction
    1. We were told a couple of years ago and it is stated in the environmental statement that the developers were planning to do the project in three phases, keeping parts of the Whitgift Centre open. This was important because it meant not everyone would be looking for a job at the same time and it meant people could still access the Centre for shopping.  It would also help make the transition better for people – we’re not robots.
    2. Then all of a sudden, we hear that plan has been scrapped and that the Centre will be shut down at once.  Why this decision was made – whether it’s the developers already messing the town around or the politicians not able to hold the developers to their agreement – I’ll probably never know.  But it does show an insensitivity to what the Croydon public needs.  Also it doesn’t bode well for us in terms of trusting the Partnership.
  • Future fears that the public would bear
  • Uncertainty of the new mall – that’s a big one
  • Probability of increase of rents in the new mall. Would our small businesses and ordinary Croydonians be able to conduct trade in it, particularly in the future?  Don’t know – more uncertainty
  • Relationship between Hammerson & Westfield – their’s was a shot-gun wedding and what will happen when the pots and pans start to fly?
  • Political angle
    1. I’m already concerned about the power of the Croydon Partnership and they haven’t even broken ground yet. We see that our politicians weren’t able or did not insist that Westfield honor the three-phase construction idea.
    2. I believe that no councillor, MP, or business group has come forward to publicly represent or support the businesses under threat and the employees affected by the situation.
    3. The result has been a form of alienation that makes me very uncomfortable to see in my community.
    4. If our politicians can’t help people at this stage, what are they going to be like if this thing is up-and-running? It seems like they are more interested in helping developers than helping residents or business owners.
    5. I think we’ll have a second government on our hands that the public will not have any control over.

To summarise, this project is a huge gamble for the town, the risks are too great and the public is not getting enough out of the deal.   I decided to come here today because I am afraid for my town and the people in it. .

As a compromise, if it is to go forward, I would urge the Partnership to concentrate on making the Whitgift centre a real gem.  There are a lot of talented architects and artists out there who could give it a renewed future.  This would keep the disruption and the number of CPOs to a minimum.  I believe it would reap both financial benefits and from a sense of good will from the public.

The proposal on the table is too painful for the people of Croydon.  It disrupts thousands of lives, jobs are risked, business is jeopardised, and the town centre is put into flux.   We should not be asked to bear these large burdens.  Thank you.

Other Objections

There were two other members of the public submitting comments on the scheme:

*     Andrew Kennedy on heritage aspects

*     Sean Creighton on a range of issues.

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About seancreighton1947

Since moving to Norbury in July 2011 I have been active on local economy issues with Croydon TUC and Croydon Assembly, and am a member of the latter's Environment Forum. I am a member of the 5 Norbury Residents Associations Joint Planning Committee, and a Governor of Norbury Manor Primary School. I write for Croydon Citizen at http://thecroydoncitizen.com. I co-ordinate the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History Networks and advise the North East People's History Project.. I give history talks and lead history walks. I retired in 2012 having worked in the community/voluntary sector and on heritage projects. My history interests include labour movement, mutuality, Black British, slavery & abolition, Edwardian roller skating and the social and political use of music and song. I have a particular interest in the histories of Battersea and Wandsworth, Croydon and Lambeth. I have a publishing imprint History & Social Action Publications.
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