Canterbury City Council yesterday (Tuesday 13 February) took full control of the Whitefriars shopping centre.
The £75m deal to buy the full freehold and leaseholds was approved by an overwhelming majority of city councillors at a Full Council meeting on Thursday 4 January, since when the council and the vendor, TH Real Estate, have been in negotiations.
The purchase gives the council more control over the centre of Canterbury so it can act as a catalyst to its regeneration.
Leader of Canterbury City Council, Cllr Simon Cook, said: “We thought very carefully about this once-in-a-generation opportunity to take control of one of the city’s key assets, which could just as easily have been bought by investors whose interests do not necessarily align with those of the district.
“While no investment is without its risks, buying 100 per cent of Whitefriars will allow us to open up opportunities to shape the future of the city centre over the long term with decisions taken by a council working on behalf of its residents.
“Retailers at Whitefriars are thriving and there is huge potential for growth especially as it is an attractive destination for shoppers and tourists who want a first-class shopping experience. It is one of the top 100 shopping centres in the country.
“As councils come to rely less on the money given to them by central government, we need to find ways to pay for essential services. The income we generate from this deal is another step towards us becoming self-sufficient.”
In June 2016, the council bought a 50 per cent stake in Whitefriars. As part of that arrangement, it was given first refusal to buy the remaining 50 per cent.
The council’s Chief Executive, Colin Carmichael, said: “Taking full control of Whitefriars and its future plans means we will not need to liaise with anyone else when taking key decisions about the heart of the city centre. It also means it will be easier for a future council to sell the whole shopping centre or parts of it if the economic circumstances change.
“Our post-war predecessors made the far-sighted decision to buy land which allowed the council to develop what is now the retail heart of Canterbury, and we are happy to continue that ambition.
“By bringing the freehold and leasehold interests together, the market value of the shopping centre increases to the benefit of the council and local people.”
Whitefriars is a modern, open-air shopping centre that boasts Fenwicks, Marks and Spencer, Next, Boots, Tesco and Primark among many others. Altogether, it has 474,000 sq ft of retail accommodation spread across 63 shops, including six large stores.
It comprises four different areas – Whitefriars Street, Gravel Walk, Marlowe Arcade and Rose Lane. Ownership includes a parade of four shops fronting St George’s Street, six shops at Clock Tower Square and a 530-space car park. There are five office tenants and 38 residential tenancies.