Croydon Council is recruiting a ‘research-led urbanism’ team to help draw up an alternative planning approach for its stalled £1.4 billion Westfield development site and wider town centre
The multidisciplinary team selected for the estimated £15,000-£20,000 ’destination retail research study’ will rethink the future of shopping in Croydon town centre and Purley Way, and explore fresh options for a new planning policy which advocates a phased redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre and neighbouring Allders department store.
The town-centre plot had previously been earmarked for a contentious new Westfield shopping centre and 1,000-unit housing development designed by David Leonard Associates with input from Hawkins\Brown which was approved by London mayor Sadiq Khan two years ago.
The commission to provide an evidence base for potential new planning guidance for the area comes just months after Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) – which is part of a 50:50 joint venture with Hammerson known as Croydon Partnership – announced it was reviewing the enormous mixed-use scheme in response to ‘a rapidly changing UK market’.
According to the council’s brief for the contract, the transformation of the Whitgift Centre and Allders is now considered ‘unlikely to be implemented as consented’.
The brief said: ‘In early 2020, URW confirmed that Whitgift had been removed from its development pipeline. Therefore, the extant hybrid consent is unlikely to be implemented as consented. Discussions are in their infancy with the Croydon Partnership regarding a revised consent that seeks to introduce a new phased development approach, with a possible initial focus around the Allders building and a different complexion of uses that moves away from a traditional retail-led approach.’
The destination retail research study will look at alternative options for the prominent site which go beyond the previous ‘outdated model of a big retail box’. It is understood possible phased approaches could focus on retrofit, the opening up of new public realm routes through the area, and removing glazed roofs introduced in the 1990s.
The report will also explore how the character, heritage and public realm of key areas in Croydon, such as the wider town centre and the out-of-town Purley Way retail zone, could be used to leverage new hospitality, food, beverage, entertainment, art, cultural, public and community uses.
The winning team will be asked to consider how ‘experiential, value-added retail’ could be encouraged and also how the Covid-19 pandemic might impact the ‘viability and sustainability of retail in town centres’. The report will update key chapters in the Croydon Local Plan, and a separate employment land review will meanwhile rethink the plan’s industrial, warehousing and office policies.
According to the brief: ‘Croydon Council is looking to appoint a multidisciplinary team to undertake a research study on the future of various types of “destination retail.” It is envisaged that the project will be led by a research focused urbanism practice working closely with a trend forecasting agency with experience in economic development and retail, and a commercial real estate agency with experience of the London [or] outer London market.
‘Culminating in a comprehensive report with clear guidance on future trends, the study will focus on urban [or] town centre retail destinations, particularly in outer London (ie Croydon town centre), as well as “out of town” big box retail and related industrial futures (eg Purley Way).
‘The study will interrogate the current landscape (including the post Covid-19 impact), relevant historical evolution of the industry and impact on cities and urban design, emerging and future trends and their impact on the resilience, vitality and design of urban centres and out of town destinations. Case studies, along with a focus on the Croydon landscape, will be integral to this.’
The Whitgift Centre was updated in the 1990s with a series of glazed courtyards and walkways between existing buildings. New approaches to the site could remove the glass roofs and open up new public realm routes
Source: Image by Matt Brown
Croydon is part-way through a £520 million Growth Zone programme covering transport, schools and community infrastructure, regeneration and public realm improvements, and support for small businesses.
The area – renowned for its Modernist concrete highways, towering offices and multistorey car parks – has been has been the subject of a series of mini-masterplans and public realm initiatives over the past decade, engaging practices such as Studio Egret West, Make, Allies and Morrison, East and at the smaller scale Studio Weave, Jan Kattien Architect, Assemble and OKRA.
The latest research comes eight months a collaborative bid by MICA Architects with Charles Holland Architects, landscape experts OOZE and designer Adam Nathaniel Furman won a contest for a £10 million new public space outside Croydon’s newly refurbished Fairfield Halls.
The destination retail study will focus on the site of the Whitgift Centre and neighbouring Allders department store. A hybrid planning application drawn up by Allies and Morrison was granted for a new Westfield complex featuring retail and housing on the site in 2014.
Hawkins\Brown was appointed in 2016 to rework the masterplan. The revised scheme set out to deliver 967 homes built as well as more than 500,000m² of shops and restaurants in a new Westfield shopping centre, and space for student accommodation or a hotel.
The winning destination retail study team will explore a range of options for the prominent town centre plot which was originally a school before being redeveloped as a shopping centre in the 1960s and later upgraded to feature a series of glazed courtyards in the 1990s.
A Croydon Council spokesperson said: ’This study forms part of the council’s current review of the local plan 2018, which includes a focus on town centre retail-led development. The face of retail is changing and the evidence obtained by the commission will help inform updates to policies regarding the future of retail in the Croydon Opportunity Area.’
The employment land review team will meanwhile look at ways the borough can deliver more housing without losing valuable workspaces, explore the impact of Covid-19 on demand for office space in the area, and carry out a potential rethink of where speculative office development should be focused in the settlement. A team including architects We Made That and Hawkins\Brown won a competition to remasterplan Croydon’s 140ha Purley Way out-of-town retail and industrial district in February.
Applications for the retail study will be evaluated 70 per cent on quality and 30 per cent on cost while applications for the employment land review will be evaluated 60 per cent on quality and 40 per cent on cost.
The deadline for applications for the retail study is 9 June and the deadline for the employment land review is 5 June.