Minerva’s no Roman goddess: a closer look at one of Croydon’s developers

By - Monday 2nd February, 2015

Sean Creighton goes back to the future and wonders: who really benefits from regeneration?

The ruined Temple of Minerva, Wellesley Road, Croydon.
Photo by Dennis Jarvis, used under Creative Commons licence.

Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom and sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy. Unfortunately it appears that the property company that bears her name is not in tune with her.

Minerva is a key player in the rivalries between different sections of the land and property development industry over the future of the Whitgift area that will start being played out from 3rd February at the Compulsory Purchase Order Inquiry.

Unravelling all of this is impossible for ordinary citizens

Firstly there was the conflict between Westfield and Hammerson until they reached agreement on a joint scheme for the Whitgift area. Then there was the attempt to overturn the outline planning application by the Whitgift Trust, an off-shore company not connected with the foundation. Along with Minerva, the trust is a major objector at the inquiry.

Who are all these developers? Unravelling who are they are and who drives their business strategies is virtually impossible for ordinary citizens. It would require a team of investigative journalists with the resources to find out, especially given some of the companies involved are not registered in the UK. Web searching gives hints but no real substance. There is also a constant process of corporate change.

Last June Westfield re-structured itself as Westfield Corporation listed on the Australian Stock Exchange by separating off its Australian and New Zealand businesses from its international ones. The corporation owns Westfield UK, which is responsible for the Stratford and West London shopping centres.

Hammerson is a British public company. In 2007 it adopted the then-Labour government’s approved tax exempt REIT (real estate investment trusts) status which gives it corporation tax exemption on income profits and capital gains on qualifying property rental business.

Minerva announced it wasn’t liable for pension funds lost by Allders staff

Minerva used to be Croydon Council’s preferred developer. Its Croydon estate comprises approximately 6.1 acres, essentially divided into two large land holdings within the town centre, including SEGAS House and part of St George’s Walk. On its website it explains that it is ‘one of the key strategic stakeholders in the town centre and will have an integral part in the re-emergence of the central core as a destination’.

When Allders crashed for the first time in 2005, Minerva held a 60% stake in Scarlett Retail, the store’s holding company. Minerva’s CEO Andrew Rosenfeld announced that Minerva would not be liable for the pensions due to Allders staff. In October that year he got out of Minerva and has since re-emerged as a major funder of the Labour Party. Minerva promised that its Park Place development project would provide ‘a high quality retail and leisure destination’: over 900,000 sq ft of accommodation, including a new full line department store, 14 major space users and over 120 speciality retail shops and restaurants. The CPO needed to implement it was confirmed in early 2007.

The company was unable to proceed and needed refinancing

Having projected a construction start in early 2008 with completion forecast in 2011, Minerva was unable to proceed with the scheme because it was considerably overstretched with around £800m of debt after developing its Walbrook and St Botolph office schemes in the city. The company admitted that ‘in the light of prevailing bank financing market conditions, it may become necessary for significant capital to be injected into Minerva either to facilitate future refinancings or to pursue future potential development activities’.

This finally happened on 19th August 2011 with the takeover of Minerva by Jupiter Properties 2011 UK Ltd, a company jointly owned by funds advised by Area Property Partners (UK) Ltd and a subsidiary of DV4 Limited, advised by Delancey Real Estate Asset Management Ltd. Since then, Area has become Ares Management. Jupiter has a 91.5% shareholding stake.

The lead individual in Delancey and DV4 is Jamie Ritblat, son of former British Land chief executive Sir John Ritblat. He was reported as ‘emerging from the recession as a major influence in the central London property market. Just as his father did in the downturns of the 20th century, he is playing a central role in the reshaping of the industry as distressed assets are unwound’.

Ritblat is at the centre of a complex set of Delancey and DV companies. One of them bought half the London Olympic Village in Stratford at a knockdown price, months after making a £50,000 donation to the Conservatives. His father was chairman of the Conservative Party’s Olympics Oversight Committee.

I wrote to Minerva. I emailed. Still no reply

I have found that trying to get information out of Minerva is like getting blood out of a stone. It has posted no update news items on its website for two years. Last August, I wrote to it.

As Minerva was not listed as a full or associate partner of the Develop Croydon Forum, and therefore appeared to take a completely different view about the ‘regeneration’ of the town centre to that of the other developers, I asked it to make a public statement about its current views about developing Croydon, especially given the considerable sum of money it had banked at the beginning of the year from the sale of its Wandsworth town centre Ram Brewery site. As I did not receive a reply, I emailed it to the company’s solicitor following the 9th December CPO Inquiry pre-meeting. Still no reply.

We should be very sceptical when those whose interests lie in boosting shareholder value and profits present themselves as working for the good of Croydon town centre. It’s a gigantic game of Monopoly. Forget the Roman goddess; consider the Greeks with their Trojan horse.

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Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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  • http://www.croydontransitiontown.org.uk Andrew Kennedy

    Good article. One question. Where do the Whitgift Foundation figure in all this?