In his office in the dome at the top of the Trafford Centre, near Manchester, John Whittaker keeps a map of northwest England. The swathes of land owned by his Peel Group empire are marked out in pink.
Whittaker, 77, battled for the best part of a decade to get his hands on the 6,000 acres of canal-side land that made him a billionaire. Now he has another titanic struggle on his hands — saving the property giant that owns the Trafford Centre.
By selling the centre in 2011 to Intu Properties, then called Capital Shopping Centres, Whittaker inadvertently put his most prized asset in the eye of the high-street storm.
The rise of online shopping and soaring costs have hit many of Intu’s biggest tenants, forcing Debenhams and Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia to close shops and slash rents. That has poisoned investor sentiment and left Intu desperate for at least £1bn of fresh capital to address its £4.7bn debt mountain.
Intu’s shares leapt 31% last Monday after the company confirmed a Sunday Times story that it was in talks with Hong Kong property giant Link about supporting an equity raising. Those gains, and more, were lost the next day, when it announced that Link had pulled out after pressure from its investors.
Intu’s shares closed at 12p on Friday, valuing the business at £163m — a fraction of the £8.4bn its assets are valued at in its books…