Call for 'local investor' to save Preston's St. George's Shopping Centre, as city leaders set out high street vision
The leader of Preston City Council says he fears for the future of St. George’s Shopping Centre if it is bought by a firm that does not have the long-term interests of the area at its heart.
The facility’s parent company collapsed into administration four weeks ago, but it remains open and it is hoped that a new operator can be found.
Labour council leader Matthew Brown was speaking at a meeting of the full council in response to a question from Conservative member Maxwell Green, who said that Preston was already reeling from “big blows” and “huge losses” to its high street, including the recent closure of Debenhams in the Fishergate Shopping Centre.
“My main concern is that [St. George’s] doesn’t fall into hands that might threaten its long-term viability - we've got to keep an eye on potentially who might end up buying it," Cllr Brown said.
“[The administrators] are confident that they’ll find another buyer, but if we could encourage more long-term and stable investors to take an ownership stake in it - for example, [if] the local pension fund [would be] interested in buying it - then is that something we could facilitate a conversation around?
“I think that’s what we've got to do. We have got to ensure that we have more local enterprise and local ownership of assets that...protect communities against these shocks."
St. George’s is home to outlets including Marks and Spencer, WH Smith and H&M. It was bought by IRAF UK Dragon Limited Partnership - the company that has now entered administration - for £73m six years ago.
It is currently operating subject to lockdown restrictions, but administrators Ernst and Young said that it will reopen “fully” once they are lifted.
Deputy council leader Peter Moss said that the pandemic had accelerated the trend towards online shopping, but added that the authority was “trying our damnedest” to enable the city centre to fight back against the challenges it faced on multiple fronts.
Peter Moss said that Preston’s city living strategy and planned regeneration of the Stoneygate and Friargate areas could help the city achieve its ambitions.
He added: “We need more people-friendly open public spaces, where people can sit and eat [and have] more social contact when [the pandemic] is over .
“The high street is no longer just retail - we need to rebalance that retail dominance of the past.
“Whether we go down the road of health hubs, arts, culture, community, leisure - the service sector has a big role to play .
“Landlords also have to do their bit - the days of long leases and high rents will have to go.
“We need tenants to be able to access short, two or three year leases where we can have a wider variety of people coming in and trying to bring initiatives and imaginative businesses into the high street that they may previously have not had the opportunity [to explore],” Cllr Moss said.
The meeting also heard that restaurant chain Mowgli is still considering opening an outlet in Preston.