THE Westfield/Hammerson Croydon Partnership has stressed its commitment to the town for the long-term, having admitted the development is likely to be completed a year later than originally anticipated.
The £1 billion redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre is expected to be completed in 2019, it was revealed at a meeting of around 100 businesspeople organised by the Croydon Business Improvement District (BID) last Thursday (October 23).
Peter Cole, of Hammerson, told the meeting that the public inquiry into compulsory purchase orders (CPOs), needed by the partnership to secure ownership of the site, was now expected to be held in February next year. He said: "If everything goes well we are hopeful building work will start in 2016 and there will be a three year construction period."
The CPO inquiry is the next big hurdle facing the redevelopment scheme and realistically it is likely to be well into next year before a planning inspector publishes his decision on the 130 objections to the orders which, at present, have been lodged with Croydon Council.
The Partnership has already had some good news on the planning front with a High Court judge suggesting he was likely to dismiss claims made by major centre leaseholders, the Whitgift Trust, at a judicial review that the planning process was flawed.
The uncertainties about the planning process have meant that despite its original optimism, the Partnership has never made a concrete commitment to an opening date.
But their commitment to the scheme as a whole was emphasised by both Mr Cole and John Burton, development director for Westfield, at last week's meeting.
The redevelopment involves providing 1.5 million sq ft of retail space, combined with leisure facilities and around 600 homes.
Describing the existing Whitgift Centre as "sad and in need of investment" Mr Cole said everyone was passionate about Croydon and wanted to make it a great place.
He said: "We want to bring something which we will still be proud of in 25 years time."
Reiterating the point, Mr Burton added: "We are here for the very long term and that takes some backbone."
Commenting on the construction timetable after the meeting, Mr Burton added: "We are very pleased with the considerable progress that has been made towards ensuring the delivery of our £1 billion regeneration of Croydon's retail centre over the past twelve months.
"There are always a number of major milestones associated with large scale regeneration projects which remain out of the developer's direct control such as the timing of the CPO Inquiry and when a final decision is received as to the outcome.
"Croydon Council's recent announcement of the date of the CPO inquiry, in February 2015, has allowed us to forecast our anticipated project timetable including start on site guidance.
He added: "We will continue to review this as the necessary land assembly progresses."