Westfield details plans for Croydon
A Westfield Shopping Centre attracting up to 40m shoppers a year would have been under construction before 2014 if developers had been given the green light.
Australian Retail giants Westfield have declared they are prepared to invest £1bn to redevelop the Whitgift Centre into a huge shopping centre, including a cinema, bowling alley and four towers of flats providing about 500 new homes.
The company has complete backing from landowners The Whitgift Foundation and signed a formal agreement to take the project on in November last year.
The proposal hit a roadblock after leaseholders to the town centre site, Royal London Asset Management (RLAM) and Irish Bank Resolution Company (IBRC), who between them control a 75 per cent stake, rejected Westfield, choosing rivals Hammerson, who own Centrale Shopping Centre, to take forward development of the site.
But John Burton, Westfield’s director of development, said the firm still had big plans for Croydon.
He said: "Whatever happens for Croydon it will be getting a new shopping centre.
"The point I would make is none of the other parties involved are able to come forward with this sort of money without going to the banks, who let’s be honest, are not lending easily.
"Without this delay we would have been looking at completion before the end of 2013."
The Whitgift Centre attracted 24m visitors between 2011 and 2012.
There are strong parallels in Croydon with the issues that preceded Westfield’s development of its Stratford centre, which opened in September last year.
The company gained a 25 per cent foothold in the site in 2004, but was unable to convince other landowners to allow development.
Mr Burton said: "With the announcement of the London Olympics the pressure became huge to progress development.
"None of the other parties had the funds to move forward and so we were able to acquire the site."
The company has set about applying similar pressure in Croydon.
Despite the lack of support from RLAM and IBRC an outline planning application was presented to Croydon Council in May with public consultation set to begin in a fortnight and a detailed plan by the end of July.
Mr Burton said: "Whatever happens this situation will be resolved and if it comes our way we need to be ready to strike.
"You could say it was premature but it simply gives the council an idea of what we could deliver.
"There is still no sign of a plan from Hammerson."
Westfield Stratford, at 1.9m sq ft of retail, is larger than the proposed site in Croydon, which is expected to include 1.5m sq ft of retail space.
Since opening, the Stratford venue has attracted 800,000 visitors a week, and generated about £500m in sales by March 2012.
Mr Burton said: "If you had said 800,000 people would be coming to Stratford every week to shop a few years back people would have said you were mad.
"We can deliver this to Croydon, we just need to be given the green light."