Local businesses and community organisations have urged the council to offer them more support following the approval of the new £1.4 billion Westfield shopping centre in Croydon.
The Westfield centre will form the heart of a scheme to regenerate the Whitgift shopping centre and will feature 300 shops, restaurants, cafes and a multi-screen cinema and bowling alley.
Croydon Central MP Sarah Jones has also called on the government to provide an urgent £1 billion boost to rail infrastructure in South London to cope with the increased strain the Westfield project will place on Croydon’s rail network.
There are fears, however, that the council’s focus on Westfield means that local businesses and community organisations will be overlooked and the town will become “an echo chamber of commerce”.
Becky Atherton is the co-founder of Turf Projects, a non-profit artist-led arts space located in the Whitgift Centre. She said: “Positioning the Westfield development as a catch-all saviour for the town is short-sighted. It doesn’t give proper reverence to the many great organisations and spaces already existing in Croydon.
“They need to be similarly supported, encouraged and celebrated to ensure the town doesn’t just become an echo chamber of commerce.”
Turf Projects moved from their previous location in Croydon to a space in the Whitgift Centre in September after receiving funding via the Council’s Cultural Partnership Fund. As a charity, they operate in temporary “meanwhile use” spaces that would otherwise be empty.
Atherton said: “We’re always aware we’ll have move again at some point, although it’s not an ideal approach long-term. We’d hope that council support for small and home-grown organisations would increase to mitigate the effects of the Westfield development.”
Ian Anantharajah, the director of Beats & Eats, a community interest restaurant and live music venue in Croydon, also called for more support for independent organisations alongside the Westfield development.
He said: “Many Croydon residents will not be able to shop in some of the high end stores that are planned for the new development, so we really do need our independent businesses to coexist with Westfield.
“This can happen as long as the money brought in by the Westfield development is reinvested in Croydon itself.”
Responding to the concerns, a spokesperson from Croydon Council said: “We have done a lot of work to support the development of independent businesses in our town centre – for example, through the Croydon Enterprise Loan Fund and the concierge service offered by our inward investment team which helps businesses find suitable premises within their budget.
“We will continue to work with our local independent retailers throughout the development, offering information and support – and would encourage any business with concerns to come and talk to us.”
Earlier this year the council set up the Small Business Commission to investigate the challenges faced by local small- and medium-sized enterprises when trying to expand in the borough.
However some businesses in Croydon argue that the council is not doing enough to ensure that community businesses and organisations continue to thrive.
Saif Bonar, the owner of Croydon café and culture hub Matthews Yard said: “The council’s support for the most embryonic businesses is and has always been at rock bottom levels. My fear is, as has happened with Matthews Yard, many people and organisations will begin to look out of borough to their future and even more sadly, look outside the UK”
Matthews Yard may be forced to close next year if proposals to redevelop 5-9 Surrey Street go ahead. The café has launched a petition calling on the council to help it move to a suitable new location, however Bonar claims that the council has lent little support to the campaign.
Ian Anantharajah of Beats & Eats sympathises with the plight of Matthews Yard and worries that other businesses might suffer a similar fate as a result of the Westfield development.
He said: “Now that we have venues like TMRW and Boxpark, Matthews Yard has been ignored and left by the wayside. We hope that this will not be the blueprint for the future of other independent businesses in Croydon once Westfield comes to town.
“While it is great to have competition, it is hard to compete against projects that are partially funded and supported by the local council.”