Hammerson and Westfield agree to work together in Croydon

Could this really be the new beginning that Croydon needs?

No, not the departure from the council of its CEO, Jon Rouse, announced yesterday evening, but the £1 billion news which was released at the London Stock Exchange before trading began this morning: “Hammerson plc and Westfield [ASX:WDC] today announced they have entered into a joint venture to redevelop the retail centre of Croydon.”

Westfield's preliminary drawings for how they wanted to change Croydon, likely to form the basis of the new, joint plans with Hammerson

Westfield’s preliminary drawings for how they wanted to change Croydon, which are now likely to form the basis of the new, joint plans with Hammerson

It is heady stuff indeed when leading figures from Croydon’s two major political parties sound agreement in greeting the news.

Gavin Barwell, the Tory MP for Croydon Central who is deeply involved in one of the interested parties, the Whitgift Centre freeholders, the Whitgift Foundation, called the announcement a “gamechanger” and said on Twitter, “Best news #Croydon has had in a long, long time. Will create thousands of jobs and catalyse other investment.”

Tony Newman, the leader of the Labour opposition group at the Town Hall, echoed the sentiments when he called it “a real vote of confidence in our town”, adding, “The challenge now is to ensure local people get the maximum opportunity to benefit in terms of jobs and training.”

So momentous is the announcement that even the Sadvertiser put back its Thursday morning deadline by an hour in order to take in details from a press conference, underway at the Fairfield Halls at 10am, to allow its editorial staff in Redhill and Essex-based sub-editors to include some news from this week in tomorrow’s paper.

Hammerson and Westfield had been eyeing one another up over the Whitgift Centre for more than a year, like two boxers prowling the ring in the opening round.

Trouble was, the contest looked like a gross mis-match, with heavyweight developers Westfield the Mike Tyson figure always likely to out-muscle the relative lightweight business of Hammerson, a Amir Khan by comparison (classy, but lacking the reach and the knock-out punch). Any fight promised to be bitter, bloody and long, and every delay sure to create more blight at the centre of Croydon, further damaging the frail local economy.

With Hammerson, the relatively new owners and operators of the Centrale mall, across North End from the Whitgift Centre, having bought a 25 per cent stake in the leasehold of the rival shopping mall and being named as the preferred developers of the 1960s-built centre by the other Whitgift Centre leaseholders, there was talk of some compulsory purchase by the council or Mayor of London to try to break the deadlock. The fear was that Croydon could have another Gateway building site on its hands for a decade or more, or worse, a Bradford Hole.

A prolonged developers' battle over central Croydon could have blighted the town for a lengthy period

A prolonged developers’ battle over central Croydon could have blighted the town for a lengthy period

Intervention from City Hall may well have been crucial in brokering the rapprochement. That Hammerson requires approval from the Mayor’s office for their plans for Brent Cross in north London may not be unconnected.

Initially, it all looks like a win-win, especially for Croydon’s future.

Both developers had put on the table outlines under the headline figure of £1billion for the redevelopment of central Croydon. Both were promising 5,000 new jobs . Both failed to detail how these new jobs might materialise. Both promised a lot of shops and a lot of flats… sorry, “luxury, up-scale apartments”. And car parks. Plenty of car parks.

There were many similarities in the schemes, and much duplication – would Croydon residents really flock to another two multiplex cinemas in the centre of Croydon, for instance? And both developers seemed to claim that they had secured the Holy Grail of central Croydon shopping: a John Lewis store.

London Mayor Boris Johnson: he is back in Croydon this morning to announce the Westfield-Hammerson deal

London Mayor Boris Johnson: he is back in Croydon this morning to announce the Westfield-Hammerson deal

By working together on a combined Centrale-Whitgift Centre shopping area, any unnecessary duplication in the offer is avoided, and the town centre has a much better chance of some sort of co-ordinated development.

Westfield will get to oversee the plans and development, as they have managed so well at Stratford, next to the Olympic Park, while Hammerson is given the job of overseeing the “assets”, and the running of the centres.

The detail of the announcement to the Stock Exchange said, “As part of the joint venture, Westfield has acquired a 50 per cent interest in the £115 million Centrale shopping centre from Hammerson. The joint venture will also purchase a 25 per cent interest in the Whitgift Centre, following completion of Hammerson’s conditional acquisition agreement with Royal London.

“Under the new joint venture agreement, Westfield and Hammerson intend to redevelop and combine the two main Croydon shopping centres, the Whitgift Centre and Centrale, to deliver a comprehensive and transformational change to Croydon. The mixed use scheme of around 200,000 m2  will include retail, leisure, residential with the potential for hotels and offices, and will create over 5,000 new jobs.” See… told you that they said there would be jobs.

“Hammerson and Westfield will meet with all stakeholders over the coming weeks to discuss their plans for Croydon, following which a revised masterplan…” yes, another masterplan. This must be No94, “… will be created combining the best elements of both schemes. It is anticipated that planning consent could be secured in 2013, with construction expected to start on site in 2015 for the c. £1bn scheme.”

And there’s the rub: a 2015 start date, making completion unlikely any time before 2017. In the past week, Jessops and HMV have joined the growing list of retailers to have left the high street once and for all. In Croydon, Allders stands empty as a monument to the way in which retailing has changed forever in the 21st century.

Even Westfield working together with Hammerson is unlikely to reverse that trend.

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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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