Chorley Council's Market Walk income down during pandemic

Rent holidays for tenants at Chorley’s Market Walk Shopping Centre contributed to the facility falling £373,000 short of the income it was expected to generate last year.

Tuesday, 29th June 2021, 9:47 am

Chorley Council which owns and operates the town centre outlet, offered retailers the chance to reschedule their rental payments in order to help with the challenges posed by the pandemic.

The authority’s leader, Alistair Bradley, said that it would have been short-sighted to have taken a more hardline approach over the money owed by traders, which could have forced some of them to shut up shop in the borough.

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Market Walk pictured shortly after the first lockdown came to an end in 2020

A small number of vacancies in the centre, along with the renewal of leases which include one-off rent-free periods by default, also accounted for the shortfall during the 2020/21 financial year.

The council has set aside a total of £438,000 to cover so-called “bad debts” in relation to Market Walk, some of which is made up of other outstanding payments – but papers presented to a cabinet meeting revealed that a “significant improvement” is expected in 2021/22, when it is hoped that much of the deferred rent will be received.

Deputy council leader Peter Wilson said that a “good result” would be any scenario which “doesn’t see bad debt provision [staying] the same or anything like it is currently”.

Cllr Bradley added that the “unprecedented situation” caused by Covid meant that a flexible approach to rent made sense.

“There are two ways of doing this: we can enforce [against] people who are in a tight financial situation and drive them out of business -which gets you nowhere because you end up with nothing and an empty premises – or you take a more pragmatic view that people will pay back as and when they can.

“The people who operate in our town centre premises are long-term partners. We don’t make the most money out of them [by being] in it for the short-term benefit – we make a reasonable amount of money over a longer period and that way we’re seen as a fair and reasonable landlord,” Cllr Bradley said.

The income from the original Market Walk was £105,000 down on the forecast level last year, bringing in £1.5m. However, the shortfall generated by the extension to the facility, which opened in late 2019, just months before the pandemic struck, was more than double that – coming in at £267,000 below the £516,000 that had been expected.

Elsewhere, income generated by the council-owned Strawberry Fields Digital Office Hub was £431,000 less than the £665,000 predicted for 2020/21, as a result of vacant units and lower take-up once Covid took hold.

Cabinet papers stated that demand for room bookings “increased significantly in September [2020], but following lockdown, fell back” at the Euxton Lane site.

“There have been a number of new tenants occupy[ing] office space and it is expected following the end to restrictions that income will begin to increase significantly in the [current] financial year,” the document noted.

Meanwhile, the council’s Primrose Gardens extra care facility – which provides supported living accommodation at a purpose-built facility on Fleet Street – performed better than expected last year. It is now 97 percent full and underspent by £59,000 against its budget during 2020/21.