Hammerson stakes £65m in latest round of battle for Whitgift

Ding ding! Seconds out, Round Three…

Hammerson, one of the two heavyweight contenders in the battle for central Croydon, put its money where its mouth is over the weekend, staking £65 million to buy-out one of the leaseholders of the Whitgift Centre as a sign of the company’s determination to beat the challenge from Westfield.

Both shopping mall developers have recently been trailing their £1 billion “visions” for the future of the Whitgift Centre. Both “visions” involve a lot of shops and flats, and offer “up to” 5,000 jobs (Inside Croydon‘s cynicism insert: of course, if either developer is successful and delivers, say, even 6 jobs, they will be able to say that thet have fulfilled their somewhat empty “promise” of up to 5,000 jobs).

The contest was sparked last year when the Whitgift Foundation, the owners of the freehold of the Whitgift Centre, announced unilaterally that it wanted Westfield to redevelop the tired and decaying 1960s centre which has not been given a significant overhaul for 14 years.

In Hammerson’s corner was Royal London Asset Management and IBRC Assurance Company (formerly the Anglo Irish Bank) which between them owned 75 per cent the Whitgift Centre. Hammerson owns the 100 per cent of Centrale.

It was Royal London’s stake in the centre, a 155-year headlease, which Hammerson announced it had bought today. “Another step towards the scheme and sign of commitment to Croydon,” said one insider. “I think it also addresses the point about Hammerson’s firepower to invest.”

Hammerson, the country’s largest operator of shopping malls, including north London’s Brent Cross centre, last year had revenue of £344 million. Westfield, the Australian company which has recently opened major shopping centres at Stratford and Shepherd’s Bush, had £1.48 billion in global revenues in 2010.

Announcing the purchase this morning, Hammerson announced: “In conjunction with Hammerson’s existing ownership of the adjacent Centrale centre, the acquisition will strengthen Hammerson’s ownership interest in Croydon. In July, Hammerson revealed plans for the Whitgift Quarter, a 150,000m² development which will restore the town to its rightful place as one of the UK’s leading shopping destinations.”

David Atkins, Chief Executive of Hammerson, said: “We are absolutely committed to the delivery of our plans for Croydon, and we are confident that the development of the Whitgift Quarter will play a key role in the regeneration of the town. This transaction with Royal London is a key milestone in the development of our plans and our strategy to deliver a new retail core for Croydon. We are seeking to work collaboratively with all the owners and other stakeholders to bring forward this exciting scheme.”

Westfield lodged a planning application for its scheme last week and the council is expected to give a decision by January.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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5 Responses to Hammerson stakes £65m in latest round of battle for Whitgift

  1. ndavies144 says:

    Just to keep me happy, can we go through what is tired and decaying about the “tired and decaying 1960s centre which has not been given a significant overhaul for 14 years”.

    You see, I’m sure I’m not he only person around who suffers a form of dyslexia when it comes to shopping precincts. They all look identical to me and if the current version of the Whitgift is knocked down and replaced by something else I’d be pushed to tell the difference.

    I only visit the current facilities in times of distress: socks wear out; tellies break down. What are Hammerson or Westfield going to do to actually make me want to go there, rather than avoid it as a contemporary version of hell?

    • The last time we were there and it was raining heavily, we counted more than 20 buckets around the common areas on the ground floor, trying to catch the water from the leaking roof… tired and old.

      But we’re sure that a casino, bowling alley, or another cinema will be just the kind of draw that will transform your “shopping experience”.

      • mraemiller says:

        I think I ageee with N Davies.

        The fact the roof leaks (round the Allders end) doesn’t mean the thing automatically needs a refit.

        The roof was added in the 90s as I remember in stages. I’m sure it could be easily repaired. No one wants to spend the money it seems, which if I was a shop owner paying what are not dinky rents would drive me livid.

        I feel too there’s an element of change-for-the-sake-fo-it-without-any-actual-vision.

        A lot of architects are making a packet but the rest of us…? Someone’s making a lot of money redesigning and building all these shopping centres but it doesn’t seem to turn into actual trade. And often nothing gets built. Indeed what if, after all this, nothing gets built and it’s the saga of St George’s Walk all over again, where having turfed out all the existing tenants and turned the area into a retail wasteland, they decided not to build anything after all and expect everyone to move back in again.

        The basic structure of the Whitgift Centre has been the same since the 70s, if it ain’t bust why try to fix it?

        At the end of the line a shop is a shop. Croydon has relied on shopping and offices for decades – maybe it needs some actual Primary or Secondary economy? I believe there used to once be a factory. Even when Croydon has something good, like the Warehouse Theatre, it’s as if the powers that be can’t wait to bulldoze it in the name of “progress”.

        Croydon already has far too many shopping centres, they’ve just been adding more for years with some kind of view that capacity is infinite.

        As internet shopping has increased and out of town shopping has increased, this model was clearly insane and unsustainable. What the centre of Croydon needs is not yet another monolith to old fashioned shopping but something different. A new idea.

  2. The wailing and gnashing of teeth you can hear is the sound of Croydon’s good and great (in their opinion) being forced to jettison entrenched positions and come to terms with a new reality: Central Croydon – a Hammerson’s integrally-managed shopping complex.
    There have been enlightened individuals who have argued for years that a seamless circulation pattern in the town centre would benefit everyone, shoppers and traders alike, and that it must include North End, an area consistently managed to a lower standard than either of its adjacent shopping centres.
    But vested interests – a pervasive problem in Croydon for decades – have always been allowed to neutralise any serious initiative.
    Now an apparently well-briefed developer has grasped the opportunity to do what any number of long-winded, council-led committees have failed to do.
    I look forward to seeing Hammerson’s detailed plans for the Whitgift Quarter. I suspect they will be a lot more practical than anything we have seen before. And just for a change, they stand a good chance of coming to fruition.
    But why does all this matter? The more successful central Croydon is commercially the more jobs it will create and sustain, which is good for the borough as a whole – certainly better than the likely alternative.

  3. David Bushell says:

    I have seen Hammerson’s basic plans during their public consultation – held in an empty shop with very few people to be seen (compare to Westfield’s very busy stall). Their outdoor shopping centre and cinema doesn’t tick the boxes for me. Their PR has been minimal and their efforts to woo the public virtually non-existent. Westfield’s PR abilities alone are enough to suggest they might actually regenerate Croydon and attract good brands.

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