Mon, 24 Jun 2019
SHOULD West Berkshire Council buy the Kennet Shopping centre?
It has been suggested that the council should use part of the £100m it has borrowed to invest in commercial property to buy the centre, which is up for sale with a price tag of around £15m.
However, other people remain sceptical about the idea.
The council has already put some of that money into retail opportunities elsewhere in the country.
Councillor for economic development, Hilary Cole (Con, Cold Ash and Chieveley), said last week that a number of developers with an interest in redeveloping the centre had approached the council.
However, the council has not commented specifically on whether it would be investing in the centre itself.
The leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat opposition Lee Dillon (Thatcham North East) said: “While I wouldn’t suggest that the council purchase the Kennet Centre as a whole, we would be willing to work with the new owners on redeveloping it, as long as it meets with our wider objectives of ensuring we keep the cinema and car parking, and a mix of retail and affordable housing.”
The centre is being marketed as a “residential opportunity”.
However, Mr Dillon told the Newbury Weekly News last week that losing the centre completely to residential would be “a disaster for the town”.
Moving Newbury’s police station and shifting the town council into the centre have both been suggested by Richard Deal of Newbury-based commercial property experts, Deal Varney.
Mr Deal also suggested that the centre could become an education hub, with Vodafone, whose world HQ is based in Newbury, providing a media centre aimed at young people.
A tourist centre, hotel, collaborative workspace, community hub and residential use were also opportunities put forward by Mr Deal.
He said that a mixed scheme was required as “life needed to be bought back into the centre”.
When asked whether West Berkshire Council should buy the centre under its commercial property investment brief Mr Deal replied: “Not really. I don’t think there is a case for that, nor any reason.
There may be a case for them [the council] moving to the Bayer building, but that’s another story.
“It is a commercial matter and not one the council should get into, in my view.”
Residents have also had their say on what should be done with the centre.
Commenting on NewburyToday’s Facebook page, Cheryl Lyford said: “We need a ‘town’, not just a street with coffee shops and barbers etc.
“I think it needs a little refurbishment, more branded shops and the idea of an indoor market sounds good too.”
The idea of an indoor market proved popular with many other commenters.
Cold Rolled Solution Limited commented: “I would suggest a lightweight extension above for apartments, keep the place open for businesses, but maybe go more down the road of entertainment than retail.
“Let’s face it, it’s so easy to buy online that the retail market is not what it once was.”
David Bates added: “Letting the council buy it will be like when Greenham Common was handed back to the people of Newbury.
“Now it makes millions of pounds under a trust name and at a time when they are cutting services.
“Ok building residential houses on commercial land, but where are they all going to work? So cheaper rents and better shops.”