Hammerson sells Essex shopping centre for £281m

The property developer Hammerson, which owns the Brent Cross shopping centre in London, disposed of another part of its portfolio yesterday by agreeing to sell its Liberty shopping centre in Romford, Essex, to the Cosgrave Property Group for £281m.

The centre provides 41,000 square metres of retail space to the likes of Marks & Spencer and Debenhams and is expected to generate rent of about £10m this year.

Hammerson, which included adjacent offices in the sale, built the original Liberty centre in a joint venture with Standard Life Investments in 1968. Some 31 years later, Hammerson swallowed Standard Life's 50 per cent share of the freehold for about £53m. A further £52m was shelled out by Hammerson to redevelop and refurbish the centre in a four-year programme.

The company is regarded by many City experts as one of the most adept developers in the sector, with an emphasis of ploughing back sale receipts into improving its properties before selling them on at a premium.

John Richards, the chief executive, said: "Hammerson has added significant value to the Liberty shopping centre in recent years. It trades strongly and dominates its catchment. This was reflected in the good interest shown by investors."

He added that the disposal was consistent with Hammerson's policy of recycling capital and follows the recent £425m acquisition of five retail parks from LxB Holdings. These are in Newcastle, Swansea, Oxford, Didcot and Belfast, and all came with planning permission.

This month, Hammerson sold its interest in two London properties in Hanover Square to its rival, Great Portland Estates, after disposing of the Avenue retail park in Cardiff to the Lanebridge Property fund for £37.5m.

On a lacklustre day for stock markets, Hammerson shares eased 4p to 1,281p valuing the group at almost £3.7bn. However, they have soared from less than 450p in early 2003.

In May, Hammerson revealed that it would become the UK's first property company to convert into a Real Estate Investment Trust (Reit) to exploit tax advantages of new legislation due to come into effect next year.