Croydon shoppers said they would rather go to Bromley or Redhill and that the town has ‘lost its sparkle’ despite the announcement of new shops coming to Whitgift and Centrale.

While news of 12 new shops coming to the town’s two shopping centres offers a glimmer of hope, many fear the retail offering is ‘dead’ and needs much more than just a few new shops.

The focus of many shoppers’ concerns is aimed at the town’s famous Whitgift shopping centre.

The iconic ’60s build, which was recently featured in the film ‘All of us Strangers’, was a popular shopping destination for many in South London and East Surrey for decades.

However, according to Croydon’s shoppers, the Whitgift feels a long way from its glory days when people used to flock there to spend time and money. Some believe the centre is showing its age and needs vital care to remain viable.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), NHS worker Don said: “I used to come here a long time ago, where every place you went to there was people selling something and people were wanting to buy things.

"How many people can you see in shops here now, maybe one or two people.

“It needs a lot of improvement, but it depends on what the council wants. Do they want it to keep ticking along until a new government comes or put money into it now? I just feel sorry for the residents, and I’m glad I don’t live in Croydon.”

Don, who came to the Whitgift centre for his lunch break, drew our attention to a number of yellow buckets scattered across the shopping centre floor.

He said: “When you come through here the first thing you can see is the buckets on the floor to catch the leaks from the ceiling.

“They’ve got to mend the roof here and make it more aesthetically pleasing.

"However, It seems they don’t want to do this though because they think it’s going to be knocked down soon and they don’t want to spend the money.”

The news that owner Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) plans to bring 12 new shops, which include Deichmann, Chopstixx, and jeweller Loupe, has been hailed by some as the start of Croydon’s retail regeneration.

Mayor Jason Perry echoed this sentiment in an emphatic post on his own X account, saying: “After years in the doldrums, is Croydon finally back on the retail map? The answer is yes.”

In his official response, he said: “We welcome these signings by new and existing retailers at Centrale & Whitgift and the local or

ganisations taking up the opportunity to support the Croydon community from this key town centre location.

“This is an exciting time for Croydon and, working with Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, we’re driving forward the regeneration of our town centre.

"It’s been great to see this increased investment and confidence in Centrale & Whitgift centre and we wish these retailers and community groups all the very best in their new town centre spaces.”

However, Westfield’s much-anticipated investment into the area has become a sore spot for locals, who first heard of the retail giant’s plans to develop the site over 10 years ago but have since seen little progress.

Shoppers were promised a brand new £1.5 billion Westfield shopping centre in place of Whitgift but those plans were dropped in 2019.

While waiting for her partner who was trying on a suit, Terri-Lee told the LDRS: “All of the Westfield plans they’ve had just seem to be on hold. It seems like they’ve just packed up and left and it’s gone quiet now.”

Your Local Guardian: Terri-LeeTerri-Lee

She added that a lot of people in Croydon only use the Whitgift Centre as a short cut from Wellesley Road to the high street on North End.

Crime has also had a part to play in Croydon’s growing undesirability as a shopping destination, according to shoppers.

Croydon’s North End, which hosts its main shopping district, has become notorious as a crime hotspot.

This worrying trend has been acknowledged by the council and Met Police, who worked together to introduce facial recognition-assisted stop and search operations on the street earlier this year.

Helen, Marissa, and Caitlin were all visiting Croydon for the first time on a work trip on March 11 when speaking to the LDRS.

Your Local Guardian: Helen, Marissa and CaitlinHelen, Marissa and Caitlin

They said that their first impressions of Croydon weren’t positive and that it was very different to their native St Albans, which they described as ‘a bit posh’.

Marissa, who was sharing a coffee with her colleagues, said: “I was quite shocked when we went into Greggs and saw security for the first time. That’s not the case where we’re from.”

She added: “We’re here for a reason, and that’s for a work trip and to fulfil a contract. I don’t think we’d come here otherwise.”

Outside the Whitgift, the sounds of a man drumming up business on a megaphone for a closing-down sale fill the air.

While Croydon does have several big-name outlets and a wide selection of independent family-run businesses, the excess of boarded-up shops is noticeable.

Mr and Mrs Wilde have both lived in Croydon for most of their lives but expressed dissatisfaction with the town’s direction, and added that change was needed.

Mrs Wilde told the LDRS: “Everything’s changed. It’s gone right downhill.

"There was a time 6-7 years ago that it was up and popular, we had different named shops that people wanted to come to but now we’ve lost the big shops. We only come here if we really need to, it’s the pits.”

Mr Wilde interjected, saying: “The council needs to bring people to the area so they spend their money.

"Westfield is not going to put money into this area, it’s not the size of Stratford or Shepherd’s Bush.

“It seems they’ve got too many concerns about the place. They’ve got to have loads of shops undercover, and we’ve already lost half the shops because the rent’s too high.”

Mother and Daughter Sheila and Charlotte from Addington shared this sentiment and pointed to the now-vacant Allders department store as a symbol of Croydon’s apparent decline.

Sheila told the LDRS: “Allders was a beautiful store back in the day, it had everything. It was such a shame when it closed. I’m glad they want to preserve the front of the store, that’s something. Apart from that, there’s not much to write home about.”

However, while concerns over retail were widespread, some Croydonians were keen to praise some of the town’s large number of independent shops, which seem to cater to all tastes.

Others said they thought the Council should continue to run the street markets on North End, which according to their website currently run up to four times a year.

Barbara, from Kenley, said: “There isn’t much for me in the way of clothes shopping, especially since British Home Stores and Littlewoods left. Croydon’s a bit sad somehow, I think it’s lost its sparkle. To be honest, I would rather go to Redhill, it’s somehow nicer up there.”

A Croydon Council spokesperson said: “Regenerating Croydon town centre is a top priority for the Executive Mayor of Croydon.

"A huge amount of work is under way to drive this forward, boost investment in our town centre and make it a cleaner, safer place for all.

"The council has recently secured an £18.5m provisional investment for the area from the government’s Levelling Up Fund – which is good news for Croydon and demonstrates confidence in our town.

“This new funding will help make it easier to move around the town centre and link key destinations.

"The council is also developing a new Regeneration Strategy for our town centre, informed through an extensive programme of public and business engagement, including with young people, through the Urban Room project.

“Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield (URW) has shown clear commitment to Croydon through their decision to buy out local partners Hammerson, and the mayor and council are working closely with them to bring forward new masterplanning proposals for the regeneration and redevelopment of Centrale and Whitgift.

"We are also working with them to ensure buildings and spaces in the Whitgift Centre are managed, including the cleaning of the façade of the empty Allders building.

“Meanwhile the council is working with a range of partners such as the police and Croydon BID, to make Croydon cleaner and safer, through new initiatives like the Public Spaces Protection Order, and improved street cleansing, waste management and enforcement.”

Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield was approached for comment but failed to respond in time for publication.