All change in central Croydon - by David Callam
RETAIL is in decline in central Croydon - long-term decline.
This has nothing to do with downturns or alleged recessions, except that they will speed up a process that has been under way for a few years or more.
There are fewer shops trading in the town centre, even in the more successful areas; and Centrale has yet to prove its commercial worth.
And crucially, Croydon shoppers are steadily eschewing traffic congestion, overcrowded public transport and overpriced car parks in favour of buying on line.
All of which means we need a fundamental change of plan - and we need it now, not at the end of the downturn; that's when we need to start putting it into action.
For example, Croydon's existing plan for a third shopping complex is already years behind schedule - the second and final phase of Park Place should have opened last autumn. Now, even the start date is uncertain.
You might conclude that creating more retail floor space in a town already awash with it is not commercially very savvy.
But Park Place could be viable if it were to replace some of the older retail units at the northern end of the Whitgift Centre - shifting the shopping district back to where it was when Grants was a department store.
We could then replace the oldest section of the Whitgift Centre with a mixture of commercial and residential accommodation.
We might even persuade the Whitgift Foundation - which still owns the land and which does such an excellent job running three schools and two elderly care homes - to adapt its management skills to other aspects of social housing.
Whatever we finally decide to do, we must not be fooled by the warm words of politicians and planners into believing that all will be well once the present downturn has passed.
In truth, we need a new medium-term plan for the whole of the town centre - one that includes the Fairfield and Gateway sites too - one that does not rely on shops or offices to finance it.
David Callam - www.callamedia.co.uk
Member since: 10th July 2012
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