CONFIRMED: Preston's St George's Shopping Centre falls into administration
Preston's St George's Shopping Centre has fallen into administration, it has been confirmed today.
A statement provided by administrators Ernst & Young (EY) to Lancashire Post confirmed that the owners of St George's - IRAF UK Dragon Ltd - have entered into administration.
But administrators said its essential stores will remain open "on a business as usual basis" during lockdown, and "the centre will fully open as usual when lockdown is lifted".
Alexander Williams and Andrew Dolliver, partners from EY, were appointed on February 1 after parent company IRAF UK Dragon Limited Partnership entered into administration.
It has confirmed that among the firm's "portfolio of assets" is St George's Shopping Centre, which will continue to be operated by management firm Sovereign Centros in the role of "Asset Managers" during the administration process.
Alex Williams (Joint Administrator) told the Post: "The administration of the Partnership and the Companies will have no operational impact on St Georges Shopping Centre which continues to trade in compliance with Government Covid regulations on a business as usual basis.
"The Property Managers (Munroe K) and Asset Managers (Sovereign Centros) of the shopping centre remain in place fulfilling their existing roles."
What do Preston City Council say?
Preston City Council said it hopes a "solution" will be found to save the shopping centre and protect jobs. Council leader Matthew Brown is calling on the people of Preston to support its city centre shops to help them recover from the impact of lockdown.
He said: "This is disappointing news which we will continue to monitor with the hope that a beneficial solution can be found that ensures St George’s continues to play an important role in Preston’s future and that jobs are protected.
“We are pleased that St George’s will continue to operate as normal throughout the process and as our high street begins to safely reopen it is important we all support city centre businesses to help them recover from the pandemic.
“Inevitably the pandemic has caused great disruption to the retail sector and this is difficult news on the back of recent announcements about Debenhams and other big names leaving the high street.
“It is vital that we take a fresh look at how high streets are utilised with a greater focus on community and social uses for units to ensure shopping centres and a busy high street continue to be part of our cities for years to come.”
What did Preston BID say?
Preston BID (Business Improvement District) said lockdown has had "an incredibly adverse effect" on retail and called on the Government to provide more support to help shopping centres "bounce back" once restrictions are lifted.
A Preston BID spokesman said: "The pandemic has had an incredibly adverse effect on bricks and mortar retailers, St George’s has been an integral part of the city’s retail offer for decades, we’re confident it will remain so.
"We are pleased that it’s very much business as usual at the shopping centre, in line with current restrictions, and as we move closer to understanding what the Government’s re-opening plans look like, it is essential that consumers continue to support St Georges, and the rest of the city centre, to help our local businesses bounce back from the current crisis and to retain local jobs.
"While some of the Government’s recent support measures have helped some businesses keep going through the pandemic, it is increasingly clear that shopping centres need more help.
"They drive significant amounts of footfall which is also enjoyed by other businesses locally, especially independents."
Who owns St George's Shopping Centre?
The shopping centre is owned by a private equity firm, IRAF UK Dragon Limited Partnership, and its investors including major shareholder InfraRed Capital Partners, who bought the shopping centre for £73 million in February 2015.
At the time of the acquisition, its new owners described St George's as "the dominant centre in the city of Preston".
In 2015, Chris Huxtable, head of European real estate at InfraRed, told investors that the shopping centre would bolster the group's portfolio, saying it was considered a "Top 50 UK retail destination".
He said: "We are delighted to be adding St. Georges to our portfolio, the seventh centre we have acquired since re-entering the shopping centre market in 2011 and the third for our Active Fund III.
"St Georges is the dominant centre in the city of Preston, a Top 50 UK retail destination, where it attracts both top quality retailers and high annual footfall.
"We will be investing further in the centre, helping to make it an attractive place to shop, work and do business which will create the opportunity to bring new retailers to the heart of the city, benefiting tenants, customers and the city centre as a whole.”
St George's Shopping Centre is home to dozens of stores and food and drink outlets, with M&S, H&M, Matalan, The Body Shop, HMV and Burger King among its many high street names.