independent

Monday 21 April 2014

IBRC looks to shift stake in London shopping centre

A night time view of the shopping precinct in Croydon, London, where former customers of Anglo Irish Bank invested in Whitgift Shopping Centre

A London shopping centre, in which 132 customers of Anglo-Irish Bank invested, is to be redeveloped as part of a £1bn (€1.2bn) investment project.

The move comes as the special liquidator of IBRC Kieran Wallace is in the process of selling off the bank's interest in the centre, known as Whitgift Shopping Centre in Croydon. However it is not clear if he is doing a deal to sell this interest on its own or if he intends to include it in the sale of the IBRC Wealth Management portfolio.

IBRC and the investors are involved through a 50pc stake which Anglo-Irish Bank Assurance acquired in the long leasehold in the shopping centre.

This week a new joint venture company, "The Croydon Partnership", won outline planning approval for the redevelopment of Whitgift as part of a 2 million sq ft new town centre as Croydon endeavours to recover from the devastation caused by the August 2011 riots.

LIQUIDATOR

A spokesman for the joint venture partnership told the Irish Independent that it is in talks with all the stakeholders. However he declined to comment on whether it had made an offer to Kieran Wallace for the IBRC interest.

The partnership was formed by UK property firm Hammerson which has a 25pc stake in Whitgift and Australian firm Westfield which controls the rival and more modern shopping centre Centrale.

It is not yet clear how a deal on IBRC's stake would benefit the 132 policy holders who invested millions in Whitgift. IBRC's liquidator is likely to have first call on its share of the proceeds.

Anglo-Irish Bank Assurance acquired its interest in the leasehold in the shopping centre in 2005 when Anglo loaned funds towards the purchase of Whitgift in a £225m (€280m) deal.

It is also believed to have loaned funds to its policyholders to facilitate their participation in the project.

Two years ago Hammerson is reported to have paid about £65m (€78m) for a 25pc stake in Whitgift and that suggests that the IBRC interest could have been worth about £130m in 2011.

Property values in London have improved since then and the outline planning approval may well add further value but it is not known if a sale at current market value would cover the outstanding Anglo loans. Earlier this year those loans were reported to be about £171m.

Whitgift extends to almost 59,000sqm with 140 units and its tenants include BHS, Boots, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury's.

Originally built in 1968, in recent years it suffered from competition from the neighbouring and more modern Centrale shopping centre, which will also be refurbished as part of the new town centre redevelopment.

At one stage Anglo was understood to have backed a redevelopment scheme for Whitgift which would have been undertaken by Hammerson which also has a 25pc interest in Whitgift.

But Hammerson and Westfield decided to drop plans for rival schemes and instead to form the Croydon Partnership joint venture which should be good news for IBRC and perhaps also for Anglo's former customers.

In the meantime, the new partnership may be faced with a dilemma. As the IBRC liquidators approaches his end of year deadline for selling off as much as possible of the IBRC assets and loans, they might welcome a quick deal on the Whitgift stake.

But Croydon Borough Council has already started the first stages of a potential CPO process whereby it would compulsorily acquire town centre properties in order to facilitate the new development and has sent out letters to all parties that would be affected by the development.

While the CPO compensation would be at market value, nevertheless such a threat and the formation of the Croydon Partnership would make it difficult for the IBRC liquidator to sell to a third party so the partnership may not be in any rush to do a deal with the liquidator. A quick deal would tie up as much as £130m -- invaluable funds -- for another year while the detailed plans wind their way through the planning process.

On the other hand postponement of a deal into next year might see the IBRC stake transferred to NAMA and this may delay the acquisition or even its sale as part of the IBRC Wealth Management portfolio.

One of the other Whitgift shareholders, The Whitgift Foundation, has also welcomed the re-development plans. At one stage the foundation favoured Westfield to redevelop Whitgift in opposition to Hammerson which was the preferred by IBRC and the then other shareholder Royal London Asset Management who together controlled 75pc of the leasehold.

Now the foundation's support suggests further pressure on IBRC to agree to sell to the Croydon Partnership which has signalled that it hopes to start site work in 2015 with a view to opening in 2018.

The new 2 million sq ft development would include 1.5 million sq ft of retail, restaurant and leisure space as well as 600 residential units.

Local politicians have welcomed the scheme as it will also see an investment of £30m towards improvements to local transport and employment training for local youth.

However another local landlord, Minerva, criticised Croydon council's decision and is reported by Estates Gazette magazine to have said that "The delivery of the development also remains inherently uncertain as Westfield and Hammerson do not own the whole application site and have not engaged in any constructive dialogue with the landowners."

Irish Independent

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