Croydon has had some very good news today.
You’ll all know that Westfield and Hammerson have formed the Croydon Partnership and plan to invest £1 billion renovating the tired Whitgift Shopping Centre and creating 5,000 jobs for local people.
Well that plan came a huge step closer to becoming reality today after the Croydon Partnership bought the remaining leasehold interest in the Whitgift Centre. What this means is that, together with their partners the Whitgift Foundation, Westfield and Hammerson now have complete ownership of the centre and day-to-day management control.
I will try to explain why this is such good news, but be warned it is quite complicated!
The freehold of the Whitgift Centre is owned the charity the Whitgift Foundation charity (of which, I should declare, I am a Governor). They granted a lease to Royal London Asset Management, who in turn granted a sub-lease to the Whitgift Trust, a group of Irish investors. The sub-lease included responsibility for the day-to-day management of the Centre.
The Whitgift Foundation has signed an agreement with the Croydon Partnership and the Partnership bought out Royal London about a year ago, but the Whitgift Trust were refusing to sell. When it was run by the Conservatives, Croydon Council issued a Compulsory Purchase Order to try to force the Trust and others who own parts of the site to sell. A public inquiry was held recently and we should learn the result over the summer.
But now the Trust has voluntarily agreed to sell. This means that Westfield and Hammerson now own the lease to the Centre, overcoming a major obstacle to the development going ahead. In addition, it gives them control of the day-to-day management of the Centre, making it much easier for them to negotiate with the existing occupiers. Finally, it should encourage others to reach a deal with them. It’s really good news. If all goes well, the last obstacles to work starting should be out of the way in a few months’ time.
I have long said that Westfield and Hammerson’s plans to transform our shopping centre are the best news Croydon has had in a long time. Not only will it give us a modern shopping centre with all the top brands and sensible parking prices, it will create thousands of jobs and help to change Croydon’s image encouraging major firms to relocate their offices here. I have worked hard behind the scenes to get us to this point and I am delighted by today’s news. I hope you are too.