ON WHAT was described as an "historic night for Croydon" the council gave the green light to Westfield and Hammerson's £1 billion town centre regeneration project. The plan will see the existing Whitgift Centre replaced by 1.4 million sq ft of shopping space, leisure facilities and between 400 and 600 new homes, creating up to 5,000 new jobs. Concerns were raised about parking, the impact on transport and affordable housing, but the landmark scheme was unanimously approved by the council's Strategic Planning Committee at Croydon Town Hall tonight (Monday). Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell said: "I hope we look back on this decision in ten years time as a bright new beginning for Croydon." Council leader Mike Fisher said: "These are very exciting times for Croydon. "This application has brought together two major developers to revitalise the town centre. "It's very good news. Now what we need to do is get on with it." John Burton, Westfield's director of development, said: "This is a significant step forward in our plans for the redevelopment of Croydon's retail town centre and importantly creates 5,000 new jobs. "We believe that our proposed £1bn investment into the transformation of Croydon's leisure and shoppping offer has the potential to act as a major catalyst for the wider physical and social regeneration of the town." Peter Cole, chief investment officer of Hammerson, said the approval brought the "world class" scheme one step closer to reality. The plan will now be subject to approval from the Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles. A busy council chamber was taken through detailed plans for the developers' joint venture. The scheme will see the majority of the Whitgift Centre knocked down and rebuilt, though the facades of some buildings on George Street and Allders will be retained. A 24-hour pedestrian route through the centre, linking East and West Croydon like never before, was a key feature of the proposal. Labour councillor Paul Scott said the "key issue" was how the transport system would cope with the development. Mike Kiely, head of planning and building control, admitted that some impact could not be mitigated, but said the council and Transport for London (TfL) were working hard to address the issues, and pointed to £15m investment in the tram network and £10m in buses as evidence. Referring to the walkway through the shopping centre, Mr Kiely added: "The public visiting the site will find their way around a lot easier than they do now." Bensham Manor councillor Alison Butler raised the issue of affordable housing, saying she was "disappointed" the council had "settled" for a minimum of 15 per cent. Mr Kiely said anything more would have made the residential side of the plan "unviable". The committee received a late objection from Minerva, which raised concerns about transportation issues and said planning permission would leave the council open to legal challenge. William Hicks QC, representing the company, said 113,920 sq metres of parking spaces would make it "very difficult to provide future regeneration schemes in Croydon". He claimed the tram network would require significant alterations, adding: "My overall conclusion is I urge you not to determine today. More time will lead to better development, criticisms to be addressed and reduce the risk of legal challenge." Eagle Croydon Centre, landlords of the Whitgift and Allders car parks, "strongly urged" the committee to reject the application because there had not been a "proper and full consultation". But the panel unanimously voted in favour of granting conservation area and outline planning consent. Mr Burton said the Westfield/Hammerson partnership was "determined to bring a scheme which is regeneration in every sense". He added: "Croydon will rise to a place it used to hold in London - the very top." Mr Barwell added: "Most importantly this will turn around Croydon's decline. There is evidence that is already happening." Steve O'Connell, London Assembly member for Croydon and Sutton, said the town has had its fair share of "well-meaning but false dawns". He added: "What is in front of you is once in a generation; a historic opportunity to secure the prosperity of our town and its residents." Addressing concerns raised on the night, Cllr Jason Perry, cabinet member for regeneration, said a scheme of such size was "never going to tick every box". "I believe the scheme is a game changer," he said. "It's a catalyst for the town and will restore Croydon's place. This is an historic day." Labour councillor Paul Smith summed up the mood, saying: "My only frustration is impatience. "A decision will be made today, but we will want to see it tomorrow. We need this as quickly as possible." The vote was met by a large round of applause from the public gallery. If approved by the Mayor and Communities Secretary, compulsory purchase orders required before building work could start in March. The aim is for the scheme to be completed by Christmas 2017.
More Pages to Explore .....