The £1 billion Hammersfield redevelopment of Croydon town centre could yet face a bloody legal battle, a report in the latest edition of Property Week confirms.
The problem, as has been so often the case with town centre developments in the past, is a dispute between the various freeholders and leaseholders of key sites. In this case, the site being fought over is Allders, in the prime location at the southern corner of the Whitgift Centre, where the leasehold is controlled by another property group, Minerva.
Outline planning permission for the Westfield and Hammerson project, almost on the nod, by slightly over-excited local councillors on Monday night, the decision supported by London Mayor Boris Johnson later in the week,
Minerva has already been active in attempting to squeeze as much value out of development ambitions of Westfield and Hammerson as possible. Now they are threatening a challenge through the law courts.
Hammersfield have made it a barely disguised secret that a major part of their scheme – which they claim could open in time for Christmas 2017 – would be securing a branch of John Lewis. The obvious place for such a flagship department store would be… right where Allders was, at the key part of the site where George Street meets North End.
Until a year ago, with Allders occupying that prime position, that might have been more difficult to achieve. But when the department store synonymous with Croydon for 150 years closed due to continuing difficult trading conditions, it seemed one tricky hurdle in the way of the “bigger, better” Hammersfield vision had been removed. At the time, angry store management suggested that the council had stood idly by as Allders went through its death throes, as if this was a convenient outcome to clear the way for their vision of a brave new Croydon.
Since then, the rag-bag, car boot-sale of the Croydon Village Outlet has been allowed by Minerva to operate in the old Allders store, seen by many as a blatant Trojan horse of an enterprise intended to screw a few extra millions out of the council, forcing them to issue a compulsory purchase order to the leaseholders for the site.
On Monday night at the council planning meeting, lawyers for Minerva were quick to issue a statement which threatened legal action, by way of a Judicial Review which will question the council’s decision-making and independence in agreeing outline planning permission.
The position of several key Croydon figures backing Hammersfield – local MP Gavin Barwell and deputy leader of the council Dudley Mead – as members of the Whitgift Foundation, the owners of the freehold of the Whitgift Centre, could yet be an issue.
When we say Minerva, by the way, we mean Delancy, run by another property tycoon, Jamie Ritblat. Delancey inherited the Allders store after taking over developer Minerva two years ago.
According to reports this week, Ritblat feels Westfield and Hammerson have “hustled” the council into granting permission.
“It’s in the interests of Croydon that a comprehensive and sustainable solution to regenerate the whole of the town centre is found,” a Minerva spokesman told the Evening Boris.
Objectors to the Hammersfield scheme – or even to elements of the as-yet incomplete plans that have been submitted – risk being shouted down for being “anti-Croydon” by the local Establishment, led by the Whitgift Foundation, which has so much to gain from the development, for daring to raise even a sceptical eyebrow about the absence of key elements, such as the promised travel model.
But like the small boy in the Hans Christian Andersen allegory who innocently points out that his Emperor is parading through the streets with no clothes, Minerva/Delancy/Ritblat – not without some commercial interests of their own – has had the nerve to state the bleedin’ obvious.
“Today’s decision shows a clear disregard for the interests and concerns of local stakeholders in Croydon,” their spokesman said on Monday night.
“This decision has been made hurriedly, with the council failing to adequately address significant objections and concerns in their report to the Strategic Planning Committee.” Thems fighting words, and clearly had been prepared as part of a case to be brought to a judge for review of Croydon Council’s conduct.
“It is in the interests of Croydon that a comprehensive and sustainable solution to regenerate the whole of the town centre is found, but this decision fails to achieve this and risks constraining any future growth and investment plans,” the Minerva statement continued.
“The delivery of the development also remains inherently uncertain as Westfield and Hammerson do not own the whole application site and have not engaged in any constructive dialogue with the landowners.”
Minerva’s objections are also supported by Eagle Croydon Centre, the landlords of the Whitgift and Allders car parks.
Hold on to your hats. The drive for Hammersfield could yet be a bumpy one.
Coming to Croydon
- Follow in the footsteps of Pirie: Dec 1
- Comedy in Music show: Dec 1
- Heathfield House Christmas Bazaar: Dec 1
- Croydon charity roller derby: Dec 1
- The Lives of Stanley Halls community entertainment: Dec 4
- Riot from Wrong screening: Dec 5
- CP Mums’ Winter Wonderland: Dec 6
- Cinema Ruskin: Dec 21
- Steve Knightly at Stanley Halls: Feb 5
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
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- Property: Different set of rules applies in Croydon (standard.co.uk)
- Westfield secures planning permission for £1 billion Croydon mega shopping centre (independent.co.uk)