A multi-million-pound deal for Metro Bank to bring their global head offices and hundreds of staff to Croydon has collapsed.
It was only a few weeks ago that developers Stanhope and their financial backers Schroders, who own Ruskin Square alongside East Croydon Station, were eager to let it be known that they were “in advanced negotiations” with Britain’s newest high street bank for it to become the anchor tenant for 150,000 sq ft of office space in the first commercial block to be built on the prestigious gateway site.
Today, asked for a progress report, the bank and the property fund-manager responsible at Schroders would issue only a tight-lipped “no comment”, refusing to deny that the deal was in trouble.
After a decade of delays, planning hitches and financial downturns, Schroders’ James Lass, the fund manager for his firm’s UK Real Estate Fund, gave the go-ahead earlier this summer for builders to start work on the office block, which is costing around £50 million to build.
Had the deal gone through and Metro Bank moved its national HQ offices from Holborn, it would have been one of the largest Croydon office lettings on record.
But it seems that Metro Bank has got cold feet about coming to Croydon and have now pulled out of the “advanced negotiations”.
According to a well-placed Town Hall source, Metro Bank wanted changes made to the designs by architects Make.
Other sources suggest that the Ruskin Square tower that was earmarked for the bank’s shiny new offices was simply no longer big enough to accommodate the rapidly expanding demands of the business. Metro Bank was founded in 2010 and had around 1,000 employees by the end of 2013, with 200 branches in and around Greater London, including one on North End.
Today, Schroders’ senior executive Lass refused to comment on the development. Or lack of it.
“Schroders has no comment to make on this or any of the press speculation regarding potential occupiers at Ruskin Square,” Lass told Inside Croydon, pointedly refusing to deny that the Metro Bank deal had collapsed.
The failure to attract Metro Bank to Croydon will be yet another bitter blow to Tony Newman, the council leader, and the council planning chief, Jo Negrini, as the Ruskin Square site – regarded as the “gateway” to the town centre for those arriving at East Croydon Station – continues to prove problematic to progress.
The nine-acre former coal merchants’ site was left largely derelict for decades. Following lengthy and expensive public inquiries over ownership and use of the landmark location, the commercial development of the site down the western side of the platforms of East Croydon Station has been stalled since 2008, as the developers struggled to find a business willing to commit to taking up a large portion of the office space they wanted to build.
While there is some building of apartments on the site, these will be mainly “luxury” flats, costing £400,000-plus, with controversial “Poor Doors” for the handful of tenants moving into the affordable housing that is being grudgingly provided.
And this week Inside Croydon revealed how the council had been sold a pulled-pork pig-in-a-poke over Boxpark, the trendy pop-up retail outlet which is taking up a corner of the Ruskin Square site. Only after Negrini had authorised a £3 million council loan to Boxpark was it revealed that instead of the originally intended mix of fashion stores, bars and cafes, Boxpark Croydon is to be exclusively for food outlets.
Newman failed to take up the opportunity offered by Inside Croydon to comment on the latest disappointing non-development. It is arguable that there’s little useful he could add.
Newman and his Labour-controlled council’s hopes of helping Stanhope and Schroders find suitable tenants for the Ruskin Square offices – together with the jobs and boost to the local economy that they would provide – may now lie with the Croydon Central Conservative MP, Gavin Barwell.
It is five years since Barwell pledged to persuade his Tory government to relocate Whitehall departments to Croydon. Thus far, Barwell has failed to deliver on that promise, with not a single civil service job having been moved from central London to the borough in that time.
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