Sun, 05 Jul 2020
The new owners of the Kennet Shopping centre have said they plan to bring something new to Newbury, but plans for a bowling alley in the centre have been abandoned.
Lochailort Investments and partners RivingtonHark, the centre's asset managers, purchased the centre for around £10m in January.
Lochailort Newbury Ltd has applied for a temporary change of use for units 13-17, the former Debenhams outlet, from A1 (retail) use to D2 (assembly and leisure) for three years.
D2 includes cinemas, bingo halls, gymnasiums and skating rinks.
RivingtonHark executive director Mark Williams said he could not reveal what was planned at this stage, only that it would be something new for Newbury.
He said: "We have got a leisure operator who wants to take that. There's not a lot I can say until they've signed.
"It won't be cinema usage. We've already got a cinema so we don't want them to compete.
"It's leisure use and it's a use that doesn't exist in Newbury at the moment, so it is trying to bring something different there and it is something that is trying to provide a more what we call a meanwhile use."
The former Debenhams unit has been empty since 2014 and Mr Williams said it was in a "horrific” condition.
"Right now it's got water flooding in, there's no electricity, it's a bomb site,” he said.
"We've got to strip it, clean it up and bring something in that makes sense.
"The centre has had better days and we have really got to try and bring some activity and life to it to then work out what its future holds.
"That's the bottom line.”
Plans for a bowling alley in the former TK Maxx store were approved last year, but no work had started.
Mr Williams said: "That isn't happening.
"That wasn't happening before we bought the asset.
"We are looking at uses in there and we are looking at what can be brought there that makes sense, but that transaction was gone before we arrived.”
The Kennet Shopping centre has been put forward as a potential housing site in West Berkshire Council's Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment (HELAA) document, which asks land owners to submit areas for new housing or business use.
The entry for the Kennet Shopping centre says: "Residential (to complement existing uses). The site promoter has also identified that a hotel may also be suitable to support the vitality and viability of the town centre.”
Mr Williams said he didn't know about the HELAA.
He said: "I think the previous owners were doing everything and anything, so I can't really speak for them, but we have had to just try to improve the running of the centre since we took it over, which we are doing, and then Covid came along.”
Mr Williams said the centre had had one retailer trading through lockdown and although lockdown is easing, footfall was low.
He said: "We are using the time to work out how long, how permanent is this Covid damage, because it has done damage, there's no two ways about it.
"We have got occupiers who are struggling. We are all watching and waiting.
"We have not collected as much rent and service charge as we need, but we are not unique in that front either.”
On the centre's future, he said: "We are looking to see what we can do with the centre.
"The reality is that footflow is down, Newbury has got a lot of the shops, putting it mildly, and we have got to see what is sustainable going forward and we are going through a big process of what its future holds, what should be in it.
"It's an important site."