Westfield sparks Whitgift spat with Royal London

A storm is brewing over the long-awaited redevelopment of the Whitgift shopping centre in Croydon after one of the existing owners claimed that a deal to bring in Westfield was done behind its back.

Australian developer Westfield announced on Thursday morning that it had entered into “exclusive arrangements” with the Whitgift Foundation, owner of the south London centre’s freehold, to become its development partner.

But just a few hours later, Royal London, which owns 25% of the vehicle that owns the long-leasehold in the 633,400 sq ft centre, responded angrily to the deal, saying it “has taken place without prior consultation with Royal London or, to our knowledge, the Whitgift Trust, whose ownerships jointly amount to approximately 75% of the centre and include the management responsibility.”

Reports that Westfield has also held talks to buy the 50% of the leasehold owned by the Whitgift Trust, which is controlled by Anglo Irish Bank, were dismissed on Thursday by a source close to the situation. The remaining 25% of the long lease is owned by the Whitgift Foundation.

Westfield and Whitgift Foundation said this week that they “intend to work together to examine opportunities arising from the retail-led regeneration of Croydon town centre with the same approach adopted in the development of Westfield London and Stratford City.”

But Royal London has vowed to continue its own talks with alternative development partners and is thought to be working on this with Anglo Irish.

“While we at Royal London are admirers of Westfield’s London developments, we are aware of several other major shopping centre developers similarly capable of delivering an excellent scheme in Croydon,” it said.

“To achieve the best possible outcome for all stakeholders, we are continuing with the ongoing process of identifying the most appropriate partner with which to move the development -forward and are excited by the opportunity that this presents.”

The clash is the latest in a long line of false starts for the redevelopment of the site, including on-off talks to combine it with now abandoned plans to develop Park Place in the town centre. Talks with Minerva over a joint scheme broke down in 2006. Westfield’s efforts to secure a stake in Whitgift date back to around the same time.

Westfield declined to respond as EG went to press, but acknowledged in its earlier release that the redevelopment would be subject to “concluding satisfactory agreements with key stakeholders”.