War declared over Whitgift

12:30pm Wednesday 16th May 2012

Exclusive By Nick Hitchens

Retail rivals bidding to develop the Whitgift Centre will go head to head after controversial plans for the site were drawn up by shopping centre giant Westfield.

The Australian company increased fears of a drawn out battle for the right to develop the North End centre after submitting its own plans, despite not being the preferred developer for the Whitgift.

The last big development – Croydon Gateway next to East Croydon station – remains unbuilt after a decade long legal dispute between contractors over construction of a sport arena.

Max Menon, chairman of Croydon BID, said: “I hope this planning issue gets resolved as quickly as possible.

"What most people want is simply regeneration for the town – we have missed too many opportunities in the past.”

He said the Croydon Gateway dispute held back development and investment across Croydon.

Matt Sims, from Croydon Chamber of Commerce, said: “The fight over Whitgift does show the massive potential of Croydon which has to be encouraging.

“The most important part of this impasse is it needs to be dealt with quickly and effectively so Croydon can continue to grow.”

Westfield is backed by the freehold owner of the site, The Whitgift Foundation, but the majority lease holders RLAM and IBRCAC have backed Hammerson.

Westfield’s pre-application proposal, which includes expanding the retail sector, building between 400 and 600 residential units and installing a bowling alley and cinema, goes before Croydon Council strategic planning committee on Thursday.

At the same meeting Hammerson will present £50m redevelopment plans for neighbouring Centrale, including a 15 screen cinema, the first phase of a £90m project.

A spokesman for Westfield said: “In November 2011, Westfield was chosen by the Whitgift Foundation, the 100 per cent freeholders and 25 per cent leaseholders of the Whitgift Centre, to be their preferred development company and has signed a binding agreement.

“Westfield on behalf of the Whitgift Foundation has been appointed to submit its plans for the redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre.”

Planning law entitles planning applications to be submitted on property even if the applicant does not own the land.

Martin Corney, from the foundation, said: “We believe the Westfield development plan would transform the town centre.

"We believe the Centrale plan is premature and are opposing that. Any plans should only be considering alongside those for Whitgift.”

He offered no hope of the foundation backing down, but said he was negotiating with RLAM and IBRCAC to drop their support for Hammerson.

Responding to the threat from Westfield, Hammerson property developer, Neil Crawford, said: “We are aware of the plan from Westfield and are in the process of putting together our own outline plans for Whitgift.

“Hammerson has been selected as development partner for the Whitgift Centre following an open and transparent selection process.

“The consortium, the Croydon Alliance, owns 75 per cent of the Whitgift Centre, and is developing plans which along with the refurbished and extended Centrale will transform shopping in Croydon."

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