THE two main contenders for the redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre could be asked to enter a planning "beauty contest" to break the impasse over the centre's future.
The Advertiser understands Croydon Council, with support from the Greater London Authority, is in the final preparation stages before launching a public competition to find a preferred bidder for the redevelopment.
The news comes in the wake of Westfield director of development John Burton's claims there is a "tsunami of investment" poised for the town once a deal is signed.
Realistically, the competition is expected to centre on Westfield and Hammerson, which both have plans for £1 billion schemes to rebuild and regenerate the centre, offering new retail space, leisure facilities and housing. It is, however, likely that Delancey, which took over Minerva and which has land interests in the now-closed Allders store site, will also be offered the opportunity to take part.
No details of exactly how the competition will be run have come to light but it seems it could run separately from the normal planning procedures.
The Advertiser understands the council will set down specifications for what it wants to see from any redevelopment, covering how it will impact on and help achieve the authority's ambitions for town centre regeneration.
Companies taking part will be required to present a detailed response, which will then be analysed by the council before it chooses its preferred bidder.
That choice would be binding on all parties involved.
It is not clear whether the competition would take place before or after the council has decided on any redevelopment planning applications.
Insiders say a public competition is a rare development tool but the council's hierarchy believes it is the best way of avoiding a protracted legal battle over the ownership of the freehold and leasehold of the centre.
It is understood the council hopes to avoid another huge regeneration delay like the one that has plagued Stanhope/Schroder's Ruskin Square site next to East Croydon Station in the past.
In simplest terms, having just one developer on board would make the necessary Compulsory Purchase Order negotiations to secure ownership easier.
Neither Hammerson nor Westfield would make any comment this week but both companies hinted they knew something was in the offing.