As councils nationwide continue to cut costs as a means of patching lowered budgets, developers are increasingly able to capitalise upon a growing supply of commercial assets appearing on the market. In Coventry, the city council has now confirmed that it will seek a bidder for the Riley Square shopping centre in Bell Green following a review of council assets in the run up to major budget cuts.
Traders operating in the local area have, for a number of years, been calling upon the local authority to invest in the site which has been deemed “outdated” by many local consumers. However, the timing of the financial crisis made this move all but impossible, and the council is now finding itself incapable of making the centre financially viable.
As a result, officers have encouraged Coventry City Council to offload the centre to the highest bidder, providing a potentially lucrative opportunity for investors seeking to break into the local market. Yet this may not mark the end of the council’s involvement with the site, as officers also recommend the council retains the freehold and offers developers the chance to buy a long leasehold.
Assistant director of property at Coventry City Council, officer Nigel Clews, believes that the council will have no option but to seek outside assistance when looking to regenerate Riley Square.
He says; “My view is that Riley Square is problematic.
“It requires significant investment and is a centre that retail has deserted because of other developments around it.
“My recommendation will be that I think we need to look at selling this – I can’t see why they wouldn’t.”
Although the centre has not yet officially been placed on the market, local experts believe that there are a number of potential options developers will examine in order to return the site to profitability. One of the key measures they believe will be taken will be to demolish several freestanding units in order to create space for residential accommodation whilst also retaining a “retail core” which will be updated as a means of attracting smaller convenience and discount retailers.
Alternatively, they hypothesise that currently vacant units could be converted for other uses, perhaps following guidance by Hhgh street guru Mary Portas by introducing community, medical or educational centres. This would additionally free up a large percentage of Riley Square’s floor space for use by a leisure operator.
One issue that potential buyers may come up against is the fact that above the centre are numerous residential units operated by Whitefriars. Due to a longstanding lease agreement with the housing association, any significant work to be done may have to be under the condition that developers seek alternative accommodation for displaced residents – something which may put potential buyers off.
Mr Clews continues; “There is not yet a specific plan to say how we will sell it, it’s a work in progress.
“The other thing to consider is the Whitefriars flats above it – there are people that need to be considered.”