The Westfield/Hammerson Croydon Partnership (CP) the Whitgift Centre is dragging its feet in terms of finalising acceptable plans for the redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre.
They have submitted revised plans which are being considered at pre-application stage by the Council’s Planning Committee on Thursday 28 April. They are holding a public exhibition in Centre ground floor, next door to the W. H. Smith entrance on Thursday 12 May 2-8pm, Friday 13 May 11am-6pm, and Saturday & Sunday 14 & 15 May 11am-5pm.
Planners Devastating Critique
Although couched as far as possible in ‘neutral’ language, the Planners report to the Committee is a devastating critique which highlights how little detailed work the Partnership has carried out since the confirmation of the CPO by the Secretary of State last September.
As it is now seeking a new planning permission and risks the plan being called in by the newly elected Mayor of London, there must now be serious doubts as to whether the Partnership will be able to start demolition as previously promised next year, and when the retail part of the scheme will be completed, and how long it will take to complete the residential scheme.
The original planning permission was granted by the outgoing Conservative Council anxious to either compromise them if they opposed it before the local election in May 2014, or to prevent a new Labour administration rejecting it. Labour supported it with reservations.
Based on the approved planning permission the Council officers gave CP full support at the CPO Inquiry (their costs being paid for by the developers). Now the developers have set new challenges for the Planners, the costs of which will be born from the Council budget.
One of the deals Labour was particularly keen on achieving with CP was a job brokerage scheme, and the administration has made much of this. However the Planners need to explain why well over a year of talking about making sure that CP offers ‘training and recruitment is directed proactively towards local people seeking work and related training opportunities’, that they now state: ‘There is a strong officer expectation that negotiations’ are needed on the employment and training clauses alongside an appropriate level of financial contributions to reflect the Council’s approach to job brokerage. Early discussion in this respect is strongly encouraged.’ (Para 5.87)
CP’s Proposed Changes
The changes to the approved planning permission are:
- redevelopment of Marks and Spencer, Green Park House and all the car parks on the site.
- 30,000 square metres additional retail floorspace
- up to 1,000 residential units from 400-600.
- possible provision of student accommodation and/or a hotel.
- provision of a cinema with an IMAX screen or similar offer requiring additional height to the approved cinema box.
- demolition of all car parks on the site.
- all car parking to be at roof level within one connected car park, rather than two separate car parks.
- car parking above the department store. (Para 4.1)
Not only is the new CP scheme ‘still at an early stage’, but proposed increase in ‘retail and leisure floorspace, and residential unit numbers and the mix of residential units, have not been finalised.’ (Para 3.4). The increases are due to CP:
- having purchased Green Park House on the corner of Wellesley Road and Poplar Walk.
- proposing to demolish buildings that were previously to be refurbished, in particular the Whitgift Car Park and the Marks and Spencer store.
- now proposing additional heights in some areas. (Para 3.4)
Victories or Challenges?
At first sight some of the changes appear to represent two victories by objectors:
- the proposed new building Marks and Spencer in the Town Centre as a key department store, given M&S told the Inquiry it might have to move out of Croydon.
- the increase in the number of homes.
- However, there are downsides to these apparent victories:
- The potential loss of the existing M&S building which is seen as an asset that contributes to the Conservation area.
- The extra homes will now contribute to taking the total number of in the Town Centre well above the Plan target because of the activities of other developers and the Council on the College Green site.
There are several negative aspects to the new plan.
- The increase in the number of storeys for the proposed residential tower blocks which could cause problems in terms of the heritage assets and the visual amenity of the people who already, or will live in the new schemes such as Saffron Square and Delta Point.
- The absence of the previously provided roof garden community space for residents.
- A major change to the traffic flow along Polar Walk.
- The Planners advise the Committee that the following issues still have to be resolved and agreement reached with the Council:
- the early delivery of the residential element within a section 106 agreement
- the level of affordable housing
- the appointment of a Residential Provider for affordable homes
- a Section 106 agreement (para. 3.5)
- a new Environmental Impact Assessment and other special studies.
- The planners are particularly concerned about:
- the significant increase in massing
- the impacts of this additional massing on heritage assets e.g. the Almshouses and St. Michaels and All Angels Church, and in relation to the Central Croydon Conservation Area. (para 3.5)
- safeguarding the existing approved 24 hour pedestrian east-west route and two secondary east west routes
- safeguarding a high quality public realm on Wellesley Road
- creating a vibrant urban block lined with active frontages incorporating residential at upper floor.
They ‘consider that, at present, the design approach requires further work to demonstrate ‘ ‘an appropriately balanced and informed relationship between the retail and residential aspirations of the proposal and the wider aims and aspirations for the Opportunity Area and Croydon as a Metropolitan Centre.’ (para 3.6)
Outstanding Questions and Way Forward
The planners list the following outstanding and questions to help focus the Planning Committee discussion.
- The height of the proposed development and its relationship with the Almshouses, other heritage assets and the impact on other views.
- The height of residential development on the site of Green Park House and its impact on St Michaels and All Angels Church.
- The removal of the existing Marks and Spencer building and the form of its replacement in the context of it being assessed as a positive element of the Conservation Area.
- Changes to the highway layout on Wellesley Road and revised access arrangements, also affecting the layout of Poplar Walk.
- The character and quality of the public realm along Wellesley Road and how the proposals contribute to the creation of a new urban space that signals a step change in Croydon.
- The form of the 24 hour east-west route, including the extent of openness, roof glazing, development above it, its role as an important route within the town centre, how level changes on site are dealt with and the introduction of doors at either end.
- The appearance of the residential element on Wellesley Road and how the retail element appears behind it (including the visual impact of the car park ramps).
- The importance of the roof or “fifth elevation‟, the need to minimise rooftop clutter and the integration of amenity and biodiversity.
- Phasing of the development: including the phasing relationship of the retail/leisure and residential elements and the extent to which the two elements will be constructed together, including the implications for townscape due to any time lag between the retail/leisure element being constructed and the residential element being constructed. (Para 3.8)
Negotiations continue on:
- final car parking numbers –reduction to approved 3,140 from having additional 360 car parking spaces available 20 days per annum (peak time).
- changes to the highway layout on Wellesley Road and Poplar Walk and vehicular access to the site.
- demolition and replacement of Marks and Spencer in an alternative location in place of approved refurbishment.
- 24 hour east-west pedestrian route with doors at either end (facing North End and Wellesley Road).
- an area of public realm at the northern end of the site fronting on to Poplar Walk.