Shot-gun marriage provides £1bn Croydon facelift

ANDREW PELLING was a guest at the wedding feast this morning to announce the £1 billion Hammerfield union. He’s not sure it will last

I hereby declare you developer and developer... Boris Johnson casts himself as the high priest of Croydon's "wedding" between Hammerson's Nelson, left, and Lowy, of Westfield, right

“I hereby declare you …” Boris Johnson casts himself as the high priest of a “wedding” between Hammerson’s John Nelson and Frank Lowy, of Westfield, right

The risk of having a London Mayor who thinks he is a top-class joker is that sometimes the jokes can get just a little too near the knuckle.

However much effort the professional public affairs teams put in, they can never account for the dangers of loose-lipped politicians.

Parts of Fairfield Halls were beautifully and cleverly sectioned off with wedding marquee-style white drapes that came to mean rather more than intended once the Mayor started to speak.

Fairfield was transformed into dedicated spaces for the launch of the £1 billion union of Westfield and Hammerson to rebuild Croydon’s town centre. Press briefings were properly organised – this event was not being run by Croydon Council’s press team. There was too much at stake to let them loose on it…

At this launch, that Boris Johnson described as “a momentous and surprising day” the Mayor of London stood between what he unhelpfully called the “two protagonists”, namely the chairmen of Westfield and Hammerson, Frank Lowy and John Nelson.

Do you, Hammerson, take Westfield to be your...

Do you, Hammerson, take Westfield to be your lawfully wedded…

The Mayor quipped of the two developers who are promising to put £1 billion of their shareholders’ equity into Croydon, “I am just the Rowan Atkinson, I am just the vicar officiating here”, he said, mentioning Four Weddings and a Funeral by name.

It was not clear whose funeral it was when Johnson equated himself with the bumbling vicar in the 1994 film starring fellow Old Etonian Hugh Grant. The recently resigned chief executive of Croydon Council, Jon Rouse, was present, however.

But when the Mayor asked, “Does any man here know any lawful impediment why these two should not be joined together?”, the assembled media was too bashful to shout back, “But do they really love each other?”

The bride certainly looked a lot happier than the groom.

Frank Lowy for Westfield was not at all enthusiastic about his new bride, “It’s not a secret that we would have liked to have done this by ourselves, but you’ve got to be a pragmatist,” the Australian said, adding “we’ve got to get on with the bloody job”.

Hammerson’s John Nelson seemed much more upbeat. Croydon-born, he described the occasion of the happy union as “a poignant day”, offering a “regeneration of a town very close to the centre of my heart”.

Croydon town centre,” Nelson said, “is in urgent, urgent need of investment.”

But even Hammerson seemed to be travelling more in hope than expectation at this wedding, Nelson saying that the new partnership could, “build the seeds of a very good relationship that we will need to have over the next few years”.

The prospects for a happy marriage of interests will need to be strong if such a complex initiative is to work for Croydon as well as for the two developers.

Hammerson’s chief executive David Atkins saw Croydon, with its “relative demise”, as “the missing point on the compass” compared to the shopping offer in north, east and west London. Atkins was confident that new partnership would see Croydon as “the centre of retailing in the southern part of London” and that Hammeson’s success in turning Birmingham and its Bullring around from “being a bit of a joke” was “a prime example of what we can achieve”.

Atkins hopes that planning permission can be given this year and that builders can be on site in 2015, with the new facilities open by 2018.

The Hammerfield deal in Croydon may resolve what is to happen with the site of the noew closed Allders department store

The Hammerfield deal in Croydon may also resolve what is to happen with the site of the now closed Allders department store

The Mayor promised 5,000 jobs and that the partnership would “turn Croydon into an economic powerhouse in south London”. Together with Croydon council leader Mike Fisher, Johnson used the occasion to bolt-on the impact of the £23 million-worth of riot recovery funds that are now being used – nearly 18 months after the 8/8 riots – for road improvements.

Boris boasted of “urban realm improvements in Wellesley Road”, betraying his support for the local council’s choice to direct the riots money to central Croydon, rather than riot-hit West Croydon.

“We will use our CPO powers,” he said. “Bicycles, we got ’em,” he trumpeted, despite Croydon Council’s abject provision of highway provision for cyclists.

What no one satisfactorily explained was why the “happy couple” have come together so suddenly now. Is it a shot-gun marriage?

The rush to a tie-up had left the partners with no agreement at this stage as to what the new development would be called. For now they would continue to use their own names, Westfield and Centrale.

The Mayor may well have been rather more than an officiating vicar. He confided that only last month was he worried about the potential clash between the two competing parties. The Mayor’s office may have forced the hands of the two developers and that may be good news for Croydon if it means getting away from the prospect of years of litigation between the developers that would have stalled any regeneration.

We wish the couple well in their future life together because Croydon’s prospects depend on their mutual success.

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1 Response to Shot-gun marriage provides £1bn Croydon facelift

  1. derekthrower says:

    So is this Jon Rouse’s fanfare?

    Before they get to celebrate, I would hope they have settled on the small print, with no easy release clauses.

    The use of the £23 million riot recovery fund to sweeten a property speculation deal just takes the breath away, with its audacity and the contempt for the businesses who were actually affected by it all.

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