The first steps to developing a Plan B for the Town Centre and the Whitgift Centre will be agreed by Croydon Council Cabinet at its meeting on Monday 16 August.
Seeking To Influence The Cabinet
Experience over the last ten years shows that it is almost impossible to influence the Cabinet’s decision making. It has a track record of ignoring submissions from residents and organisations and fails to acknowledge receipt of them, and most are not responded to. However, it is still worthwhile making submissions for the historic record that there are alternative ways and additional ideas that it should be exploring. The Cabinet can agree additional decisions to those recommended by the officers. Some of the matters that could be agreed include:
- Agreeing that the membership of the proposed Advisory Board which include representatives of the Croydon TUC and the Croydon Climate Action.
- Publication of the North End Quarter draft plan prior to the official approval and publication of it for the Local Plan Review to enable residents and organisations to comment on it and influence the final wording for submission to the Cabinet as part of the approval of the formal Local Plan Review documentation for Inspector’s Examination.
- Engagement meetings with the Croydon Cultural Network, the heritage organisations including the Local Studies Forum, the environment and climate change organisations, the Borough’s residents associations, the community and social enterprise sector. These meetings to be held separately so that the numbers are over large inhibiting being able to take an active part.
- An engagement meeting with representatives of the specialist meetings to discuss the outcomes of each of the latter meetings, and seek to resolved potential conflicts and develop ideas for synergies.
- Engagement meetings in the each of the 16 Place Areas of Croydon to enable local residents and their organisations to collectively consider their views on the future of the Town Centre, so that the plans it do not damage the regeneration of their areas.
- Participation in the joint Council/CLP workshops of people involved in the cultural, heritage, environment, climate change, residents, and community and social enterprise organisations.
The Importance Of The Town Centre
The officers’ report argues that
- the ‘town centre is a key focus for jobs, investment, education, leisure, services, shops, homes and public life. Its health and vibrancy is central to the economic and social wellbeing of our residents and businesses.’
- ‘The Covid 19 pandemic has accelerated the decline in retail, changed behaviours regarding the use of town centres and has created great uncertainty in work and travel patterns, which without direct intervention by the Council will undermine regeneration initiatives.
The Council’s Role
- ‘The Council’s role will be largely to convene stakeholders and the borough’s diverse communities, facilitate meaningful public and stakeholder engagement through platforms like the Croydon Urban Room and influence external developers and investors to help bring consensus for a Town Centre vision and inform the preparation of a Regeneration and Recovery Action Plan for the regeneration and redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre and the wider Town Centre.’
- ‘Collaboration with all parties and the public will help create an authentic vision with a sense of ownership to help deliver.’
North End Quarter Review
‘The recently completed study for the Council investigating the Future of Destination retail is informing a new dedicated North End Quarter chapter in the Local Plan Review; this will provide an important framework to inform the participatory exercise to define a detailed vision.’
This has not yet been published. Lack of consultation on the draft means that concerned residents and organisations have no opportunity to influence what will be part of the Local Plan Review documentation, which will be much less easy to influence changes in the formal process of of the Inspector’s Examination.
The officers state that:
- the focus will ‘be on tackling ingrained inequality and poverty in the borough. We will follow the evidence to tackle the underlying causes of inequality and hardship, like structural racism, environmental injustice and economic injustice.’
- ‘Croydon town centre (and the North End quarter in particular) has excellent accessibility and rich & diverse heritage which facilitates all residents across the borough to access its offer and services.’
- ‘A healthy, vibrant and inclusive town centre that provides opportunities for all through an equitable choice of services, shops, education, public space and housing will help address inequality and hardship.’
- ‘Opportunities to nurture local young people, organisations and businesses with affordable and accessible provision of services and infrastructure will also be key.’
‘An accessible participatory process to determine the future vision will be essential in understanding diverse needs and ensure the town centre is truly inclusive.’
‘The Urban Room platform will be important for this effort to provide an accessible process, with the first step focusing on empowering our diverse communities to meaningfully engage and influence the future of their town centre.’
A Healthier Environment
‘The sustainable transformation of the built environment of the area with integrated green and blue infrastructure, improved connectivity and sustainable travel links, high quality streets and public spaces and enhanced biodiversity not only improve perception, attractiveness and value of the area, but also importantly ensure longer term improvements in sustainable economic growth, health and wellbeing and positively address environmental injustice and climate change.’
‘A new vision for the Town Centre needs to include’:
- safe, inclusive and clean streets
- high quality public realm which facilitates ease of movement for all by active travel and public transport,
- reduction of air pollution
- promotion of healthy lifestyles.
- ‘A new emphasis on a biodiversity and greening to the town centre should help promote health and well-being in the population.’
Advisory Town Centre Board
The Cabinet will set up an Advisory Town Centre Board, which will have the Leader as Chair andthe Cabinet Member for Culture & Regeneration as Council representatives.
There will be a community engagement programme for the Town Centre, and the North End area in particular to build on and help deliver the vision as set out in the Local Plan. A Croydon Urban Room within the town centre will be set up as a focus and platform for community, business and stakeholder engagement. A budget of up to £50,000 funded from central Government’s Welcome Back Fund, will ‘kick start the community, business and stakeholder engagement.
It is also proposed to prepare a Recovery and Regeneration Plan as a non statutory document for the town centre.
Croydon Limited Partnership (CLP)
The Partnership is continuing to prepare ‘short, medium and long term plans for the redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre’. It has a subsidiary the Whitgift Limited Partnership.
Legal instruction is to be initiated for the transfer to the Partnership of land acquired through the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO).
The 2011 Riots And Covid
The report admits that the Borough and Town Centre recovery from the 2011 riots has been ‘uneven and many residents and businesses feel they were left out.’
The proposals ‘seek to build a much more inclusive approach to recovery from the pandemic by giving our community a real voice in the development of a new vision for the town centre.
The ‘continued uncertainty around the Whitgift has the capacity to cause blight and means it is imperative’ the Council works with its partners ‘to develop a new vision that builds on … (the) cultural and night-time offer as well as responding to the changing retail environment accelerated by the pandemic.’
A Scrutiny Task and Finish Group
A Scrutiny Committee Group has been set up to undertake a review on the future of the Town Centre in Croydon and its work will inform the vision.
Borough of Culture
‘The Borough of Culture is a fantastic opportunity to re-establish the importance of the role of Croydon town centre in the psyche of the borough and the wider sub-regions through cultural placemaking. It will help to re-establish the Croydon town centre as a vibrant visitor destination through cultural and artistic interventions which will celebrate Croydon’s unique identity, showcase our local talent and create opportunities for our creative and cultural sectors beyond traditional retail offers.
The Borough of Culture will occupy fringe, vacant and meanwhile spaces across the Borough to demonstrate how the arts can lead the call for system change with our communities and give opportunities for communities to shape the areas they live, work and visit.’
‘Whilst the programme is yet to be developed, the town centre planning, regeneration and placemaking should be a coordinated part of the process of programme development through events and activities which critically examine, explore and celebrate Croydon’s unique heritage, identity and cultures, but are economically viable as public funding is going to be very constrained for the foreseeable future.’
Land Ownership Issues
- The ownership of different parts of the Whitgift scheme and the Town Centre especially along North End is complex.
- ‘The freehold of a large part of the proposed redevelopment site is held by the Whitgift Foundation including the Whitgift Centre itself.’ ‘CLP has the benefit of an agreement with the Foundation to facilitate the delivery of the scheme.’
- ‘Parties to that agreement have confirmed to officers that it remains in force.’
- CLP has also acquired land by agreement.
- CLP also owns Centrale.
- The Council’s ownership includes the freehold of the Allders car park and a long lease of the Whitgift car park, both of which are subject to long leases currently held by CLP and sub-let to NCP.’
- ‘NCP is facing administration and is being restructured and as part of this, it is expected that both its leases will be terminated with the car parks handed back to CLP (as immediate landlord) in July 2021.
- ‘Other interests in the site are held by retail operators including major national retailers, such as M&S, H&M, Boots, Superdrug and Sainsbury’s and smaller businesses.’
CPO Legacy Matters
There remain outstanding issues relating to the CPO approved by the Secretary of State to enable the Whitgift regeneration scheme to go ahead.
- The CPO ‘enabled the assembly of a number of land interests’.
- ‘The compensation process arising from this is continuing and is likely to do so for some time’ and is funded from a special account.
- ‘Subject to very limited exceptions, the land interests and new rights which were subject to Notice to Treats (NTT) have not been acquired by the Council and those notices are due to expire in September 2021.
- ‘When the NTTs expire, formal notice will be given to all affected parties. Further compensation claims may arise at this stage. Council officers are working with CLP to issue the notices of expiry of NTTs in September 2021.’
- ‘Compensation claims are covered by the Indemnity Agreement the Council has with CLP, who underwrite the costs arising from the CPO. Land Transfer’.
- There is a requirement that ‘Land vested in the Council through the CPO is subject to the terms should be transferred to CLP (or its property arm WLP). In the meantime, CLP is responsible for its management.’
- ‘The transfer of this land to CLP/WLP is part of their objectives for their predevelopment work, as this should enhance the attractiveness of the asset.’
The Future Of The Whitgift Centre
‘The absence of a viable planning consent or any new development proposals is of obvious concern, although it is appreciated that preparing new development proposals during a pandemic, with the full implications for retail yet to emerge, is challenging.’
- ‘To ensure the vitality and viability of the Whitgift Centre during this period of reappraisal, the Council and CLP have been collaborating to ensure activation is maintained through temporary uses both short and medium term.’
Trinity Square/Court In The Whitgift
‘A wider mix of uses, to encompass commercial, leisure, arts, public and community is being sought with the potential for these uses to be precursors to inform the longer term vision.’
- ‘The creation of a Tech Hub around Trinity Square anchored by LSBU School of Engineering in the Whitgift Centre is an initial pilot.’
- ‘It is anticipated that this would be managed by a specialist operator who would help create an appropriate environment for small and medium sized digital and innovation enterprises.’
- ‘A number of creative and arts led uses are already successfully operating in meanwhile spaces in Trinity Court and the expanded Hub could be a complimentary addition to that.’
COVID halted the programme of workshops between the Council and CLP exploring potential new uses for the Whitgift, including short, medium and long term approaches. These have now restarted.
- ‘Central to this is the preparation of a robust meanwhile and precursor strategy, which sets out new temporary uses and initiatives.’
- ‘This should be the first phase of a coordinated medium and long term strategy for the area informed by the various frameworks set out above.’
- ‘The Council considers that collaboration is critical to the successful preparation and delivery of such a strategy.’