Money talks but 1% Cash deal could shape Westfield CPOs

And so it begins…

The sheer scale of the redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre, together with Centrale, has already been illustrated by the rapidly rising estimates of the cost of the scheme.

There will be no place for discount stores in the new Croydon Hammersfield, despite all the talk of one-on-one consultations

There will be no place for discount stores in the new Croydon Hammersfield, despite all the talk of one-on-one consultations

From the £1 billion figure when it was announced by London Mayor Boris Johnson at the start of the year, it has already gone through £1.5 billion (a whole 50 per cent hike in just six months), to £1.6 billion when the very same Boris was talking up Croydon’s prospects most recently. This wasn’t some misreporting by a junior on a local paper; the words actually came out of the blond buffoon’s mouth. He really does make it all up as he goes along.

Boris is not alone in this respect: Croydon Council leader Mike Fisher managed to say publicly last week, his comment passing unchallenged, that the scheme will create 8,000 new jobs – a mere 60 per cent increase on all previous estimates that the scheme’s two developers had both suggested.

It’s the sort of speculators’ inflation that has building firms rubbing their hands together eagerly, as the pound signs whirl in their eyes, a response which in the past has usually been reserved for poorly managed public projects financed by the apparently bottomless pit of the tax-payers’ pockets (For the record: Property Week is dutifully still using the original £1 billion guesstimate of the cost of the Croydon scheme; the truth is most probably that no one really knows).

But a further sign of the scale of the scheme came this week, when our local council started to deliver 200 letters to existing businesses and other tenants on the Whitgift Centre site, threatening compulsory purchase orders if commercial agreements cannot be reached.

Two hundred separate occupants: Derren Brown would have an easier task juggling water than Croydon has of successfully pulling all those together seamlessly and smoothly.

The number of tenants involved is another measure of the massive scale of the enterprise facing what is calling itself the Croydon Partnership, or what we term Hammersfield, the shot-gun marriage between previously rival developers Hammerson and Westfield.

The council’s letter going out now is an interesting cart-before-the-horse move, and one full of risks – just ask the good folk of Bradford, who had to live with a giant hole in their town centre for a decade when Westfield failed to deliver its promised shopping mall there after having got the local authority to CPO the site and remove the previous occupants.

Hammersfield has lodged its formal application for the Croydon development, which includes 2 million square feet of shops, plus more high-rise flats and some “destination” leisure facilities (like Croydon doesn’t have enough multiplex cinemas). Yet they have delayed submitting promised, revised plans for approval by Croydon Council. Someone discovered that there might be some traffic issues in central Croydon. Who’d have funk it?

So the threat of CPO-ing current occupants of the Whitgift Centre could be pre-judging that everything will be acceptable in the submitted plans. Is a reason for the apparent urgency because the current, Conservative-controlled council is going into elections in less than 10 months?

The local Tories have been parading Westfield director John Burton at their party meetings, which may demonstrate how desperate they are to bask in the reflected glory of something – anything – being progressed in our town, however tenuous this benighted Tory council’s role in the scheme may be.

A change in administration next May won’t see the Hammersfield baby thrown out with the bath water, but if Labour gets in (and that’s far from being a foregone conclusion), they seem certain to bring with them a change in emphasis on matters such as public realm benefits and the ratio of social housing included among the 600 homes in the scheme, compared with the high-yield yuppie “apartments” so favoured by local Tories, the developers’ friends.

Property Week reports that, “The council is understood to have sent around 200 requisition letters to affected landlords notifying them of its intention to pursue CPOs if commercial deals cannot be agreed to sell their stakes to the Westfield and Hammerson joint venture.

Westfield director John Burton: "Full steam ahead"

Westfield director John Burton: “Full steam ahead”

“The CPOs will affect stakeholders including the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, Minerva and Legal & General Property, as well as all the retailers’ leases.

“If the CPOs are implemented, it would enable Westfield and Hammerson to finally gain control of the entire Whitgift Centre site, and progress their plans. The council will make a decision on Westfield’s outline planning consent in September, after it was delayed from last month. Changes will then be made to the plans to reflect the desires of the two owners.”

The developers have issued a statement that contained a number of key promises for the existing occupants. It will be interesting to monitor how these all play out:

  • “The land assembly process is vital to bring forward this development at the earliest opportunity …”
  • “… it is our priority to ensure that all businesses involved are consulted”
  • “… we are sympathetic to the impact our proposals will have on some local businesses, and we will be working closely on a one-to-one basis”
  • “For businesses that would like to remain in the town centre, we will work with each business to seek long- and short-term solutions”

Of course, Hammersfield will need many of the existing businesses to buy-in to the scheme, ultimately as occupiers of the vast space it will be providing, in what is the biggest retail development in the country.

But for all the talk of touchy-feely one-on-one consultations, there is mixed signals from Westfield’s Burton: “The clear message we are sending out this week is – it is full steam ahead.”

That might just be a clumsy mis-use of gung-ho language, but Burton probably considers that in this kind of situation, the side with the money usually wins. And the Australian-based developers, who have already delivered massive malls in London at Shepherds Bush and Stratford, have plenty of that.

Marco Cash: has been making statements almost as loud as his shirts since announcing his Croydon Village plans for the Allders site

Marco Cash: has been making statements almost as loud as his shirts since announcing his Croydon Village plans for the Allders site

Burton says he hopes that agreements can be reached with 99 per cent of the present tenants. Of the other 1 per cent, a public inquiry – probably next February or March – would need to approve the council’s CPO, a process which in the past in Croydon has too often ended in tears.

They say money talks, but in the past couple of weeks it has been Cash doing the talking, Marco Cash. He is the businessman who has announced that he is moving in on the Allders site. Was Cash’s bold “we’re be here for 150 years” claim this week just publicity bluster? Or might it have been a public negotiating tactic?

Burton has said that there will be no place in the Hammersfield development for Cash’s Croydon Village discount store. So Croydon Village may be taking up its tenancy, from landlords Minerva, just in the nick of time to force a potentially lucrative deal from Hammersfield, eager to avoid a stand-off over a CPO.

Otherwise, Hammersfield’s 2017 target opening date could yet prove hard to hit.

Having fired the starting gun on the property acquisition process, Croydon Council has made a promise of its own in a press release. “If redevelopment gets underway the council is determined to make sure the Whitgift Centre remains vibrant for as long as possible, that local employment levels are not affected and that disruption is kept to a minimum,” the statement said.

That comment was issued without being attached to the name of a Conservative cabinet member or senior council official. No prizes for guessing why.

Read Inside Croydon’s archive on the Hammersfield project:

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This entry was posted in "Hammersfield", 2014 council elections, Allders, Boris Johnson, Business, Croydon Council, Housing, Planning, Property, Whitgift Centre. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Money talks but 1% Cash deal could shape Westfield CPOs

  1. Melanie says:

    Reblogged this on Melanie Bennett and commented:
    Could last week’s announcement of the delay in Hammersfield

  2. davidcallam says:

    I do hope you’re right about Croydon Partnership being prepared to play hard ball.
    An initiative this size needs a benevolent dictator (Docklands Development Corporation) if time-wasters and malcontents are not to be allowed to wreck the project.
    Let me be clear: I have been following the so-called redevelopment of central Croydon for decades and I have watched countless presentations from council officers and developers alike, all of them promising the moon and sixpence and delivering little or nothing (Park Place anyone?).
    Mr Burton and his colleagues will need to make themselves unpopular in some quarters if they are to make progress.
    A change of council next year will make little difference, in reality, to the scope of the scheme. Whatever Hammersfield’s final spend it clearly sees this development – quite rightly – as a Greater London initiative, negotiated with the city region’s mayor, not some complex political dance with a small-minded bunch of borough wanna-be major politicians and inexperienced council officers.
    Property owners and lessees know this is the last chance to make a return on their investments.
    If Luddite or other vested interests succeed in slowing progress to the point where Hammersfield goes elsewhere in south London, the bottom will drop out of the Croydon commercial property market.
    I look forward to seeing the detailed plans for the new-look central Croydon, including an upgraded road layout to link the development with the M23. I expect it to propose changes as fundamental as those that brought about the original Whitgift Centre.

  3. I am one of those who oppose the plans as unnecessary and a waste of resources that will do nothing to meet the real regeneration needs of Croydon.

    However, there is one area of activity which may get a big boost once the new complex is open: crime.

    The Evening Standard reported on 12 August that the Met Police have said that the two highest crime hotspots in London are now the areas around the two Westfields at Stratford (3,440 offences in 18 months) and Shepherd’s Bush.

    This is an issue the Council and the Committee Police Consultative Committee need to consider.

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