MT WALLETTE, our unbuilt shopping malls correspondent, on the latest doom-laden annual report from one of the Croydon ‘partners’
Anyone clinging to the faint hope that the publication this morning of Hammerson’s annual report would offer encouragement about the prospects of a new super mall in Croydon town centre were quickly disabused when the company’s chief exec issued a statement which included the doom-laden verdict, “The magnitude of the challenge facing UK retail is significant.” But then, David Atkins’ company’s losses for the last 12 months were £500million more than in 2018.
Hammerson is one-half of the Croydon Partners, the owner of the Centrale shopping centre in Croydon and who, since 2012 along with Westfield, have been promising to regenerate the town centre.
Any prospect of that happening any time soon appeared finished earlier this month with Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield announcing that Croydon had been removed from its “pipeline” developments.
Hammerson’s annual report simply provides further confirmation.
“We are reviewing plans for Brent Cross and Croydon… to ensure the developments address changing customer and occupier requirements and include a greater mixed-use element than originally planned,” Atkins, the Hammerson CEO, said in his report.
Hammerson has been flogging off shopping centres in the past year to reduce their debts (since July 2018, they have sold 14 retail parks, generating £764million). They are certainly not building any news ones and incurring new debts.
And their report confirmed that they will be continuing to do that through 2020.
“With the outlook for the UK retail market remaining uncertain, we believe we should maintain our focus on reducing debt during 2020,” Atkins said.
“We will create a more resilient business and also generate significant liquidity which could, at the appropriate time, be deployed to create enhanced returns for shareholders,” was the nearest to any hopeful prospect for a Croydon development that was offered by Atkins.
Hammerson posted a £781million loss in 2019 – half a billion quid more than 2018, and everyone thought that was bad enough – as the company’s property portfolio was reduced in value by £1.6billion, to £8.4billion. Their rents and trading profits were down by 11 per cent.
But Hammerson has offered some clue to what any Croydon development might end up looking like in some of their other business activity recently.
In two words, it can be summed up as: More Flats.
Last week, Hammerson appointed Simon Betty to lead what it calls its “City Quarters strategy”, in which it seeks to shift its business away from retail property to residential. It is what Atkins meant when his report mentioned “changing customer and occupier requirements and include a greater mixed-use element than originally planned”.
In a press statement announcing Betty’s appointment last week, Hammerson said, “The City Quarters scheme will effectively see Hammerson transform many of its shopping destinations beyond pure retail into neighbourhoods providing homes, workspace, hotel space and accessible public realms by leveraging over 100 acres of its existing land bank.”
Anyone for a “luxury executive apartment” built over the top of where House of Fraser is now?
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An alternative (radical) suggestion: shut down Croydon Town Centre completely and we’ll all just go to Bromley, which is a far more pleasant, busy and certainly cheaper to park in alternative than anywhere in Croydon, thus saving the Council needing to invent yet more lies to tell us.