A Chinese property developer has signed a deal as part of £500 million plans to redevelop St George’s Walk into a huge public square outside Croydon Town Hall, while building hundreds of flats, constructing new shops and refurbishing the Nestlé building.
Guangzhou-based property developer R&F Properties announced today (Wednesday) that it had bought the freehold of the 5.5 acre site in Croydon town centre from current owner Minerva. The site includes the entirety of St George’s Walk, the offices above it, and St George’s House – known locally as the Nestlé building – as well as Segas House and Ellis House. Prospective plans to redevelop the western end of St George’s Walk into a pedestrianised civic square on Katharine Street, with new tower blocks and flats on the shopping arcade itself, were unveiled before Croydon Council’s planning committee in March last year. But at that stage there was uncertainty around the plan since Minerva – the company which owned the freehold on the western end of the site – had not fully acquired the freehold on the eastern end of the site and St George’s House. The sites have since been consolidated – and named Queen’s Square by Minerva – over the past 12 months before the sale to R&F Properties this week, Minerva said.
Xia Ning, on behalf of R&F Properties, said: “As a newcomer to the UK market, we are excited to bring our expertise and enthusiasm to this significant town centre scheme. We aspire to provide positive real estate schemes across the world and look forward to working closely with the local community, businesses and stakeholders, to deliver the most appropriate scheme for the benefit of the borough.” A statement on behalf of Minerva said R&F Properties had been chosen because of its “extensive international experience” regarding large residential developments in China, Australia and Malaysia.
Planning permission has already been granted for the conversion of St George’s House into residential flats, with preparatory demolition work to separate the tower from the neighbouring office blocks carried out last year. It is not yet clear if the Chinese developer will take up the designs drawn up by Minerva last year, which included two new towers, of 25 and 35 storeys, with more than 820 flats among new routes lined with shops linking George Street, High Street and Katharine Street, as well as the public square on a pedestrianised Katharine Street. But a Minerva spokesman said “the time was right” for another party to deliver the project, which he described as “vitally important” for Croydon. “It will now be for R&F Properties to consider the most appropriate way to bring the scheme forward, however we have no doubt the result will be something the town can be proud of and we look forward to following the progress, whilst we focus on our other land holdings in the area,” he said.
Minerva, owned by developer Delancey, still owns the former Allders department store in North End – now Croydon Village Outlet – though that site is subject to a compulsory purchase order ahead of plans to redevelop the Whitgift Centre into a huge Westfield shopping mall. Plans to build a £500 million shopping centre on the St George’s Walk site fell through in 2009 after the council pulled the plug on the deal, leaving much of St George’s Walk near-derelict. But the decades-old shopping centre has since enjoyed something of a revival, thanks to new galleries and small businesses opening there.
R&F Properties was founded in China in 1994 and was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2005, and is reportedly regarded as a leading property developer in China. Tom Moore, a director of commercial property company CBRE, said the deal was one of the largest residential deals to be done in London this year. He said: “It will provide a huge boost to Croydon, which due to its affordability and strong infrastructure is becoming an increasingly popular part of London. Chinese developers have shown a great interest in large London development sites over the last three years but few, if any, have been successful. It is encouraging to see this deal happen, despite tighter capital control in China.”