Only a last minute intervention by Conservative Minister for London, Greg Hands MP, working with Croydon South MP Chris Philp and the leader of the Conservative group on the council , Cllr Tim Pollard, has prevented our hopeless Labour council blowing the Westfield scheme.
Up and down the borough residents have been asking “Where͛s Westfield? Why is nothing happening?͛
The answer is that our Labour council has been making demands on the scheme that it wasn’t able to accommodate and, in so doing, they risked the developer walking away.
The scheme was brokered back in 2013 by the Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson, supported by the then Conservative-controlled council. Planning permission for the scheme was first granted in 2014. All was proceeding smoothly until Labour took control of the council, at which point they began to move the goalposts, putting the scheme at risk.
Points about which they have been arguing include how much social housing the scheme must contain and how much contribution the development must make towards the costs of upgrading the town’s infrastructure. The problem is that in the time the council has been prevaricating, building costs and the uncertainty around Brexit have pushed the scheme to the limit of viability.
Cllr Tim Polllard, Conservative Group Leader, says “It’s time our Labour council got out of the way and let the developers get on with implementing the scheme. This development is just too important for the town for it to be right for the council to make any further demands and risk the scheme not happening.
͞If the Minister for London hadn’t got the council into a room and knocked heads together, there was a real chance that the scheme might have collapsed. That would have been a total disaster, given how many other schemes are waiting to see what happens with this one before going ahead.”
͟Following the arrangements brokered by the Minister, a date was agreed for the application, in a revised form, to go back before the planning committee and permission was unanimously granted in November with cross-party support.
The scheme is important not just in its own right as a major redevelopment, but also because it is the key to unlocking lots of other improvements. Without the Westfield scheme there will be less money available through the Growth Zone deal, whereby the government agrees to forego some of its takings from business rates to allow the town to use that money to finance a huge spend on infrastructure.
And with every other scheme in the town centre on hold or behind schedule – including the Fairfield Halls, now not scheduled to properly reopen until 2019 – we need to keep the pressure on Labour to ensure it doesn’t blow the best opportunity that the town has had to make a real step forward for decades.