Wednesday 16 December 2020 Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has bought the Victoria Shopping Centre for £10m, demonstrating its commitment to the future of Southend town centre and giving it a significant property ownership stake in the High Street for the first time.
The purchase demonstrates the Council’s long-term commitment to the town centre and presents opportunities to drive changes to the centre and help the regeneration of the High Street. The price the Council is paying, having been up against a number of other bidders, reflects the market conditions and the significant challenges around retail, and is below the original asking price. The centre last changed hands in 2016 for over £24m.
Funding for the purchase will come from the council’s current £22.3m strategic and regeneration acquisitions budget. The council has sought detailed and specialist retail, legal and financial advice from experts in these sectors, and will be using an a specialist retail asset manager to manage the shopping centre on its behalf.
Cllr Ron Woodley, deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for transport, capital and inward investment says: “This move is a big boost for the local economy and an exciting move by the council.
“The Victoria Centre is key strategic property acquisition for us. While the income will cover the borrowing cost of buying it, its strategic value is what’s important to us.
“It offers future regeneration benefits and a real opportunity to make a positive impact on the High Street and town centre area.
In the short term, the Council will look at ways to increase footfall and drive up occupancy levels through short-term tenancies. This will provide opportunities for start-ups, relocating businesses, or artists’ studios for example.
“There is also significant opportunity to improve the main point of entry to the High Street and the gateway to our town. The Council is committed to creating opportunity and prosperity in our Borough and although times are tough and may get tougher, the council is committed to the long-term future of the town centre.”
Cllr Ian Gilbert, leader of the council, says: “We all know that this is a very challenging time for retail, but on balance this is an important purchase and intervention for us to make.
“It demonstrates community leadership, confidence and investment in the town at a time when it needs it the most, and we believe this will signal a brighter long-term, future for the Victoria Centre and Southend High Street. It also gives us a significant land holding, ownership and influence in the town centre that we do not currently have, with which we can help support local economic recovery and the High Street.
“The centre underwent significant refurbishment just over ten years ago, but we will look at ways to make it more welcoming and that its presence at the gateway to the High Street is improved.
Paul Redstone, representative of Carter Jonas says: “Carter Jonas is delighted to have helped the Council secure a freehold ownership of a key site in Southend’s town centre by advising them in their purchase of the Victoria Centre. This acquisition ensures that the Council now has an economic interest (along with its statutory planning role) which will help them bring forward re purposing plans for the town centre – exciting times for the town’s stakeholders, its shoppers and visitors.”
The Council was advised on the legal aspects of the transaction by Gowling WLG. Real Estate partner Nick Mumby, who leads the cross-disciplinary team, said: "It has been a pleasure to work with the Council's property team on this critical acquisition as they continue their regeneration plans for the town centre."