Doubts have been raised over the £1.4 billion redevelopment of Croydon town centre as retail park overseers Hammerson took the first step to exit the business.
Last week, Hammerson, owners of Centrale Shopping centre in the heart of Croydon town centre and a partners in behind the long proposed Croydon Westfield plan, said they will sell up to 10 retail parks, including Brent South Shopping Park.
Hammerson blamed the retail downturn for this decision. David Atkins, chief executive of Hammerson, said in a statement given in July 2018: “Through increasing the level of disposals, including exiting the retail parks sector, we will now focus solely on winning destinations of the highest quality.” He added: “These are the venues we believe will maintain relevance and outperform against the shifting retail backdrop”.
Hammerson is part of the Croydon Partnership in collaboration with French-based Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield. The project to redevelop the Whitgift Centre and Centrale shopping centre started back in 2013.
However, while Whitgift and Centrale are not on Hammerson’s “for sale” retail portfolio, concerns have been raised that the company’s recent record does not suggest they are ready to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on such an ambitious project.
Works were expected to start back in September 2019, but in February this year, they were postponed to 2020. Yet, no new start date was announced. Croydon Partnership’s website clearly shows that there has been no progress on the redevelopment project since 2018.
However, Croydon council and the partnership are adamant, the project will not fall through.
When asked about the course of future action, Croydon Council referred back to the last statement in October when the partnership confirmed that they were still facing a lot of work to finalise the proposal, “in a climate of continued economic and retail uncertainty.”
A spokesman for the Council told Eastlondonlines: “We’re continuing to work with the Croydon Partnership, who remain committed to delivering the Whitgift Centre redevelopment”.
Hammerson’s move comes after M&G Property Portfolio, one of UK’s biggest property funds, with significant investments in shopping centres, began blocking investors from making withdrawals.
The property fund was closed after “unusually high and sustained outflows” dictated by “Brexit-related political uncertainty and ongoing structural shifts in the UK retail sector”.
Over 2019, M&G saw about £1 billion withdrawn by investors.