THE sale of Burton’s Coopers Square shopping centre ‘will be the springboard to revitalising the town centre’, the town’s MP has claimed.
Andrew Griffiths spoke hours after the Mail revealed that asset management firm F&C REIT had snapped up the prime retail site from Grosvenor Fund Management for £250 million.
The Conservative’s ecstatic response summed up the mood of optimism sweeping Burton’s movers and shakers in the wake of the announcement.
“I was absolutely thrilled when I heard such good news for Burton town centre and our retailers,” Mr Griffiths said.
“This is a massive boost for the town and a huge vote of confidence in Burton as a place to come and shop.
“I really think this will be the springboard to revitalising the town centre and making it a place that Burtonians can be proud of.”
The MP said he hoped the acquisition by F&C, which already owns Burton’s Middleway Retail Park and has other interests in the town, would prove the catalyst for the completion of the shopping centre’s £25 million pound extension plans.
The plans, granted planning permission by East Staffordshire Borough Council in October, include provision for 11 two-storey shops, a Debenhams department store and a rooftop car park.
“I have my fingers crossed that this new investment will also produce the long-awaited Debenhams, which I believe will make us a shopping centre of choice for many people in the area and will have a massive knock-on effect on small independent retailers in the town,” Mr Griffiths said.
“I’m convinced that having a major national department store in the town will act as a magnet to attract shoppers who will then spend money in other shops, restaurants and cafes in the town centre.”
The MP also indicated that the deal struck by F&C with its own cash and that of a number of unidentified institutional investors marked a welcome change of fortune for Burton’s hard-pressed retail sector.
In recent months it has been hit by the closure of famous names such as Comet and Jessop’s and the knowledge that the axe could soon fall on other big hitters such as HMV.
“We have had in recent weeks some distressing news about closures in the High Street, so this could not have come at a better time to boost morale and show that Burton town centre had a very bright future ahead of it,” Mr Griffiths said.
The MP’s warm reaction to the deal was shared by bosses at the borough council, who said it had cleared the fog of financial uncertainty which had hung over the town centre in recent months.
Leader Richard Grosvenor said: “The uncertainty that has delayed investment in Burton town centre in recent months has now been removed.
“We look forward to working with the new owners – who clearly have a great deal of confidence in Burton town centre – and accepting their offer to move forward together for the ongoing prosperity of the borough.”
Andy O’Brien, the authority’s chief executive, said investment opportunities such as the one presented by Coopers Square were now rare.
“In this instance the sale of Coopers Square signals a real boost for the future of the town centre and we look forward to meeting the new owners.”
The deal signals a big change for Coopers Square manager Dave Chadfield.
“I’ve been with Grosvenor for 12 years, so it’s a change for me,” he said.
“Ever since I’ve worked here they’ve been the owners.”
But he said F&C’s investment was ‘good’.
“It’s taken time to get over the finishing line but it can only be good.
“F&C is a good company which is into property management and will take a fresh look at it,” Mr Chadfield said.
“I’m sure it will have plenty of ambition and want to work with the town.
“And the company knows it, which is one of the reasons why it was interested.”
All those keen to see Burton’s retail sector flourish will now be waiting to see what happens with the expansion plans.
F&C is so far keeping its cards close to its chest, a stance in accordance with its practice of letting the dust settle on any deal before revealing its plans.
Joanne Wilkes, the firm’s head of in-town retail, said: “We are obviously aware of the proposals that were put together by Grosvenor, the previous owners, before our clients’ purchase of the centre.
“Over the next few months we will be reviewing the options before taking a final decision on our strategy here.”
Debenhams has signed a contract to open a department store in Coopers Square.
However, the company suspended talks when the centre was put on the market, saying it would prefer to resume them once it knew its new landlord’s identity.
Debenhams was asked to comment but did not provide one before the Mail went to press.
BURTON’S retail chief has hailed the Coopers Square takeover as ‘good news’.
Town centre manager Paul Howard (pictured) spoke hours after asset management firm F&C REIT announced it had snapped up the shopping centre in a deal worth £250 million.
“It’s good news,” he said. “F&C manage a few places in Burton already so we already have have a relationship with them.
“We look forward to carrying on working with them.”
Mr Howard indicated that the deal, which ended 13 years of ownership by Grosvenor Fund Management, could resuscitate the centre’s £25 million extension plans.
“It’s good that the deal has finally gone through and hopefully we will see some news on the development now.”
The retail chief indicated that although investment in the town centre was welcome, it was particularly so during the current challenging market conditions.
Mr Howard said F&C would have viewed Coopers Square as an attractive proposition, particularly given that the expansion plans had already been approved.
“I’m sure they will come in with their own ideas,” he said.
“They will want to make an impact as soon as they can and prove they are serious about retail in the town centre.
“Long term we would like to see a development go ahead which will help the whole town centre.”
F&C’s announcement has provided a welcome boost to Mr Howard and other retail analysts who have been forced to watch as high street staples such as Comet and Jessop’s have succumbed to the harsh economic climate.
They will hope the takeover marks a long awaited reversal of fortune.