Westfield appears to have lost out to rival developer Hammerson in their multi-million pound bid to transform Croydon’s Whitgift Centre.
The Australian developer behind the massive shopping malls at White City and Stratord has hinted at legal action at the decision by the majority owners of the lease of the centre to back Hammerson.
Westfield had originally struck a development deal with the Whitgift Foundation, which owns the freehold and 25 per cent of the leasehold of the shopping centre, last November. At the time, Mayor of London Boris Johnson remarked that he was “delighted” with the decision.
However, Royal Asset Management and Irish Bank Resolution, who together own the rest of the lease, announced on Monday that they had signed an exclusive agreement with Hammerson for the redevelopment. They said it followed a “full and independent review” of various proposals, co-ordinated by Jones Lang LaSalle.
Since Whitgift is considered one of the capital’s most lucrative retail development prospects, Westfield said it was not accepting the decision.
European Managing Director Michael Gutman said: “We recognise Croydon as an ideal candidate for regeneration and, through our binding agreement with the Whitgift Foundation, we are committed to taking this important project forward.”
The Whitgift Foundation declared the decision “inexplicable” and claimed they were excluded from the final selection process. It is believed they would need to rubberstamp the agreement before the project can go ahead.
The possibility of a delay in the project is seen to come at a particularly damaging time, following the announcement of Nestlé’s planned departure from Croydon, and the failure of both the Croydon Arena project and Minerva’s Park Place.
A council spokesman said: “There is now a need for a reconciliation of the ownership and commercial interests so that a scheme can proceed without delay. We hope that all parties will work to this commercial objective, and in the best interests of Croydon and its residents.”
He added: “The fact that two major shopping centre developers have demonstrated such a strong interest in Croydon is evidence of our enormous potential.
Anglo-French developer Hammerson, which has stakes in the Brent Cross shopping centre, also owns Croydon’s Centrale shopping centre. They have promised that their extended participation in the city would prove “game-changing”.
Once the issue has been resolved, the expansion will form part of Croydon Vision 2020; a regeneration project that will see £3.5 billion pumped into the city centre over the next eight years.
By Oscar Quine