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Westfield Croydon deal formed due to competition threat

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AS THE dust settles on last week's landmark news that rival developers Westfield and Hammerson are to unite and regenerate our town centre with a £1 billion plan scheme, Ian Austen reveals why the deal came about, how it will progress and what the finished article will actually look like... THE looming prospect of a council-backed competition to choose a developer for the Whitgift Centre was the major driving force behind last week's historic deal between Westfield and Hammerson, it has been confirmed.

Now instead of battling it out, the rivals for redeveloping the centre will work together to finalise a £1 billion project which is widely expected to kickstart the regeneration of the whole town centre.

Both companies admitted to the Advertiser last week that the council's threat of organising a public competition to find a preferred developer had been key in their decision to co-operate rather than get embroiled in a long and costly fight.

The competition would have involved the council setting down parameters for how it wanted to see the town centre develop and inviting Hammerson and Westfield, plus Allders owner Delancey, to come up with bids to meet those requirements.

Council leader Mike Fisher said this week: "I am very happy to say that the signs we were preparing a competition to secure a preferred bidder was a major factor in the thinking of Hammerson and Westfield in coming together."

He claimed that neither company wanted to get involved in a costly exercise which could see one of them ending up with nothing.

Cllr Fisher admitted he was "a little surprised" at the speed of the outcome and the fact the developers had managed to keep their negotiations under wraps for so long.

He added: "All the feedback initially was that the two parties wanted to develop the Whitgift Centre on their own but they have come together in a sensible and pragmatic approach for the benefit of the town."

He said he was delighted with the deal, which he was convinced would return Croydon to its role as the premier shopping centre in south London.

The Advertiser understands the decision to go down the public competition road was the result of originally immovable stances being adopted by the major players.

Up to a few months ago, the indications from Hammerson and Westfield were that they would never work together.

Apparently, if that was not enough, the Whitgift Foundation, which owns the Whitgift Centre freehold and has a deal with Westfield, was also suggesting it was in an unassailable position.

It was confident the council would never take on a 400-year-old Croydon institution by suggesting going down the line of a compulsory purchase of its interest.

But at this point it is believed the Greater London Authority and the Mayor of London got involved, backing the council view that the regeneration of Croydon was too important to be lost in an ownership battle.

It is understood that a message was conveyed to the foundation that if Croydon proved hesitant on the compulsory purchase order front, the GLA could take a very different view.

This, it seems, set a few nerves jangling in the Westfield/Foundaton camp and played its part in the start of the discussions which have led to what all sides now believe will be the best solution to ensure a prosperous future for the joint developers and the town.

Westfield has already submitted its formal application for the Whitgift Centre to the council. It envisages pulling down much of the framework of the existing centre and replacing it with 1.5 million square feet of retail space including a major department store, a state-of-the-art cinema complex, bowling alley, restaurants and bars. Around 600 new homes are also planned in four towers facing Wellesley Road. Hammerson has presented pre-application proposals for a similar retail and leisure mix, with its housing element of around 300 flats largely provided by revamping the existing Centre Tower in the shopping complex. The largest difference between the two schemes is in the overall design concept, with Westfield opting for a covered centre while Hammerson favours a more open development of shopping streets and squares. Both developers want to attract a major department store into the town and favour John Lewis. The partners have made it plain that now the deal is in place, they will not let any grass grow under their feet as they move to see the redevelopment started in 2015. A statement from Westfield this week said: "For 2013 our core focus is securing planning approval. To keep the momentum up we will continue to push our Westfield current application as in all likelihood it will only need minor tweaks to incorporate the best of both schemes." The statement added that over the next few weeks, both Westfield and Hammerson will be meeting with all stakeholders including Croydon Council, other landowners and retailers "to explain the nature of the joint venture and what this means to Croydon". MORE

Westfield Croydon deal formed due to competition threat


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