REAL estate developer Hammerson yesterday stepped up its battle with rival Westfield over the ownership of Croydon town centre after snapping up a stake in the leasehold of the area’s main shopping centre.
The FTSE 100 listed firm said it had acquired a 25 per cent stake in the leasehold of the Whitgift Centre, a shopping centre in central Croydon, from fund manager Royal London Asset Management for £65m.
The deal will see Hammerson take a stake in the 155-year leasehold, which delivers gross annual income of £3.3m and net income of £2.2m, as it seeks to strengthen its hand in the battle with Australian mall giant Westfield to tap the lucrative future of Croydon’s main shopping area.
Both Hammerson and Westfield are currently battling for the right to develop the shopping centre after a split between the site’s owners over who should be appointed to develop the site.
The leasehold of the site is 50 per cent owned by Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, with the other 50 per cent split between the freeholder the Whitgift Foundation and until yesterday, RLAM. All three stakeholders have to agree on a single developer for the centre.
In November the Whitgift Foundation signed an exclusive agreement with Westfield to develop the site, which was opposed by RLAM and IBRC.
Yesterday’s deal is set to give additional leverage to Hammerson in negotiations over who should develop the site.
Westfield, which developed Westfield London and Westfield Stratford City, plans a £1bn regeneration of the centre which it says would deliver over 5,000 permanent jobs in Croydon.
Westfield’s director of development John Burton said: “This announcement is not unexpected and does not change Westfield’s commitment to regenerate Croydon.”
Hammerson plans to develop the centre as part of its Whitgift Quarter development plans. It currently owns the Centrale shopping centre, which is behind Whitgift.
Hammerson chief executive David Atkins said: “We are absolutely committed to the delivery of our plans for Croydon.”