Multi-billion-pound developments in central Croydon could be forced to go head-to-head in a battle to secure the Home Office as tenants for their office buildings.
According to a report published this morning by Property Week magazine, the Home Office is considering pitching for a new 350,000sqft head office to be delivered by Westfield and Hammerson as part of their long-delayed redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre.
If such a deal was agreed, it might salvage the £1.4billion Westfield project from the brink of collapse.
However, were the government’s property specialists to cut a deal with Westfield and Hammerson for the Whitgift site, it would be a massive blow for Ruskin Square, next to East Croydon Station.
Ruskin Square has been painstakingly and painfully assembled over the past decade or more by Stanhope and Schroders, and they had hoped that their second office block would be pre-leased to the Home Office.
The first Ruskin Square office block is already home to another large government department, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. But plans for further office builds as part of the £500million Ruskin Square mixed residential and commercial development have had tobe shelved, according to Schroders because of the lengthy uncertainty surrounding the Westfield and Hammerson redevelopment of the town centre.
The Home Office’s immigration and visa service already occupies two 1960s-built office blocks on Wellesley Road: Lunar House and Apollo House.
According to Property Week, the Home Office’s lease on those buildings expires in 2024; there seems little chance that any “Hammersfield” scheme in the town centre will be completed before that date, given the delays to that development so far.
A Home Office transfer to another Croydon site would not represent any real, “new” investment in the town centre, just an overdue upgrade for the tenants.
And were the developers, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield together with Hammerson, to accommodate the Home Office’s requirements, according to Property Week, they “would have to go back to the drawing board and rework their plans”.
That would therefore be the third version of plans put forward for the scheme since Hammerson and Westfield first agreed on the Croydon development in 2012.
Currently, the scheme – which has had planning permission granted and Compulsory Purchase Orders approved – is for 500,000sqft of a retail supermall and nearly 1,000 “luxury apartments”.
Although the original Whitgift Centre, when it was built in the 1960s, included office blocks, there was no significant commercial office component considered for the Westfield-Hammerson redevelopment.
Westfield and Hammerson have both recently announced that their scheme was “under review” because of the dramatic changes in the retail sector, and demolition work due to commence in 2019 has been postponed, indefinitely, casting considerable doubt about whether the scheme will go ahead at all.
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