Newbury’s failing Kennet Centre could stagnate for more than a decade, delegates were warned at the Thames Tap Newbury Forum.
Thames Tap teamed up with Porterfield PR to bring a group of property professionals with expertise in Newbury together to discuss the future of the Kennet Centre and the town itself. The round table discussion was held at The Chequers Hotel on Friday, July 5.
Matthew Battle, managing director, UK Property Forums (and meeting chair)
Ian Blake, director, Morse Webb architects
Chris Boulton, chief executive, Greenham Trust
Fiona Brownfoot, retail director, Hicks Baker property consultants
Kim Cohen, partner, Barton Willmore
Duncan Kite, director, GCW retail property consultants
Ian Young, director, YA Property property consultants
Cllr Tony Vickers, West Berkshire LibDem councillor for Wash Common, serving on the district planning committee and vice-chair of the western area planning committee
Ian Purvis, managing director, Porterfield PR
Guests heard that the centre, owned by HIG Capital and on the market for a price of £15 million, has debts of a similar amount. Its net annual income is around £300,000 but a letting to Superbowl UK has added to complications over any sale. Existing retailers with long leases already present obstacles.
Duncan Kite, director for GCW, said shopping centres had historically been too inward looking and those such as the Kennet had proved to be sustainable only for a certain period.
He went on: “The Kennet Centre, in retail terms, is now in terminal decline. There is not a rescue plan, in retail or leisure terms, that I think anyone can put in place to improve this.”
Its income, he said, is sufficient to allow an investor to retain the site in its current form for some time.
He went on: “From an investor’s point view, you’ve still got quite a bit of income to sit on, and you may not want to hear this, but to sit on for five, 10 or 15 years and manage that down to a point where the commercial hurdles disappear or become more manageable so that you don’t need the support of the council to deliver a solution.
“One of the concerns I would have if you’re someone who has an interest in the future of this site from the outside, is that there may be stagnation for many, many years which I think would be a crying shame, personally.
“But I think the dynamics of the asset as it’s been presented, probably mean that might be the case.”
Earlier, Ian Young from YA Property, suggested the site should be cleared. The town centre, he told the meeting, already has around 30 vacant retail units with potentially more than 16 new units yet to open in various schemes in the pipeline.
He said: “We are building up big problems for ourselves.”
Kim Cohen, partner at Barton Willmore, said an holistic look at the role the Kennet Centre plays in Newbury, is needed . She said a clean slate would allow any new development to add vibrancy, bring people into the town centre and complement the Grainger scheme at Market Street where work has begun on 232 homes and 8,780 sq ft of commercial space near the railway station.
She added: “Newbury as a town centre doesn’t really feel linked to anything. If you think about Reading, there’s office uses around and also residential coming in so all those uses meld together. Whereas in Newbury, if any of us walk up the High Street this morning, it will be almost empty.”
Mrs Cohen said the town centre needs to be pulled towards the station.
Chris Boulton from Greenham Trust, views the centre as a ‘long term hold’ and sees no immediate prospect of its redevelopment. He said: “I think we could end up having a similar get together like this in five years’ time.”
Agents, he said, market Newbury as a very affluent town but he added: “When those agents come off the train from London and walk around and see the 30 vacant shops, they are going to leave quite quickly so I would be amazed if we get much serious interest in it and I gather there’s been at least five developers looking at it.”
Any redevelopment risks causing what he called a ‘seesaw effect’ of dragging footfall between the Parkway Centre and the Kennet as each improves in turn.
Image (top): Back row (l-r): Cllr Tony Vickers, Kim Cohen, Ian Purvis (Porterfield PR), Matthew Battle, Fiona Brownfoot. Front row (l-r): Ian Young, Chris Boulton, Ian Blake and Duncan Kite.
Images (below): 1. Ian Young and Chris Boulton. 2, Fiona Brownfoot and Cllr Tony Vickers. 3. A general view from the discussion.
© Thames Valley Property No 171 (tvproperty.co.uk)