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Are Intu's plans for Broadmarsh already a white elephant?


Are Intu's plans for Broadmarsh already a white elephant?

Construction & Build

Richard Tresidder, our former business editor, takes a look at the latest twist in the long saga of the redevelopment of Intu Broadmarsh Shopping Centre and ponders where to next.

The construction standstill at Broadmarsh is deeply serious for Nottingham. Its owners, Intu Properties, have taken nine years to get round to doing anything with the early 1970s shopping centre which it acquired from Westfield, then owned by the Lowy family who pulled the plug on their proposals after stringing the council along for ten years or more with its grand ideas.

So nearly 20 years on since Westfield unveiled ambitious plans for a £700m plus regeneration of Broadmarsh, building work stands idle. The leader of the council, David Mellen, must be dreading a phone call that saying the £90m refurbishment is on long term hold. Intu’s share price stands at around five pence while the company seeks to repair its balance sheet.

The high street retail climate, already in a perilous state even before Covid-19 threatened our health and the world economies, poses an almost impossible conundrum for the city council.

Like all property companies, Intu will be crystal ball gazing: will the public want to go to the cinemas and bowling alleys planned for the Broadmarsh centre? How will cinema-goers sit to watch the silver screen if coronavirus remains endemic in the population? Ditto bowling alleys where sanitising bowls will prove difficult. The council and Intu will be pondering if the market has gone away and, if so, for how long - or for good. The fear must be that what Intu planned has become a white elephant, already dead.

In the meantime, work continues on the construction of a nearby 2,000 space car park and bus station at a cost of millions of pounds to the council taxpayers but demanded by Intu when it had the upper hand. Intu presumably saw it as a way of driving footfall into Broadmarsh. If the “shopping centre” remains a construction site for an unknown period, why would motorists want to park at the new car park? Parking charges will be badly needed to pay the loans for its construction.

The situation is even worse. No one has mentioned the 500,000 sq ft extension to Victoria Shopping Centre once promised by Intu but now essentially dead. It was a condition that Intu complete the Broadmarsh before embarking on extending Victoria Centre at a cost of £220 million.

It is difficult to escape the feeling that Nottingham and its politicians allowed themselves to be pushed around by Westfield and Intu. It should not take 20 years to rebuild Broadmarsh and politicians take some of the blame for not being sharp or nimble enough.

The question is where to now and is the city leadership up to finding an intelligent, clever and pragmatic solution, finding a new exciting purpose for Broadmarsh.

First, the council needs to take Broadmarsh off Intu’s hands. Its strong card is that it owns the freehold and should offer a nominal sum to buy out Intu’s interests.

Secondly, something which I have advocated in this column before, the council should open up a dialogue with Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary and Newark MP, with a view to Government supporting a development and architectural competition. There is plenty of local experience and talent in the architectural community to enable practices to stand a chance of putting together inspirational ideas for putting the Broadmarsh area back together.

Some of this could fall to the Nottingham Growth Board which has the task of counselling the local authority as it seeks to boost the city’s wealth. The right scheme might capture the attention of Government and secure money from the Treasury. Nottingham’s poor economic performance has to be tackled and Government has a role to play. A solution could be a strong partnership between Government, the private sector and the local authority. Let’s not dither.

Written by Richard Tresidder - Nottingham Evening Post