WEST Berkshire Council has said it won’t be putting money into Newbury’s struggling Kennet Shopping centre – because doing so could expose taxpayers to “major financial risk”.
It has been suggested that the council should use part of the £100m it has borrowed to invest in commercial property to buy the centre, which is up for sale with a price tag of around £15m.
The local authority has already put some of that money into retail opportunities elsewhere in the country.
At a recent meeting, Steve Masters (Green, Speen) submitted a question: “Would the Kennet Centre be a great opportunity for the council to redevelop the town centre, build truly social housing and get a long term return on investment?”
In a written response, the council’s executive member for housing and planning, Hilary Cole (Con, Chieveley), said: “As I alluded to in comments made in the Newbury Weekly News, a number of private entities have approached us with an interest in redeveloping the centre.
“They will be better placed to manage the risk associated with an asset which has a low level of existing income and requires significant redevelopment.
“This is not the council’s core business and would potentially expose local taxpayers to major financial risk.
“It is our understanding that interested parties intend to retain the car park and cinema at the centre and that any proposals for extensive redevelopment relate to the remainder of the centre.
“The plans shown to us by these parties also involve a mixed use for the centre, which will include an element of residential.
“As we do in every major application, we will work with developers throughout the planning process to deliver the highest possible proportion of much-needed affordable housing.
“Our property investment strategy works within a number of clear parameters to ensure that it represents good value for money and minimal risk to residents.
“It is our judgement that at this time the Kennet Centre does not fulfil the stringent criteria of this strategy and that there are others better placed to redevelop the centre.
“As is the case with all policy decisions, we will keep this under review as part of our plans for the town centre.”
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