City Council is in the market

Salford Council buys Eccles shopping centre for £4.15m

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Salford City Council has bought Eccles Shopping Centre, becoming the latest northern local authority to invest in declining retail centres.

The council said that the £4.15m acquisition is “the first key component in plans to deliver a new, shared vision for redeveloping and revitalising Eccles. It means the town centre’s future is now in the hands of the council and the community and enables the implementation of the shared vision to begin”.

“Drastic change”

The council paid Columbia Threadneedle Properties for the shopping centre after more than 600 residents took part in an initial consultation on the “vision” for Eccles, with the responses highlighting a “need for drastic change”.

Salford mayor Paul Dennett said: “It’s time to accept some hard truths, that the centre as it stands now isn’t working for the town or the community. So it’s now time to show Eccles the love and support it badly needs.

“We’ve listened to the needs of the community and, by taking ownership of the shopping centre, we can work alongside the local community, stakeholders and a developer partner to bring this shared vision to life – a vision to re-purpose the area and create a modern mixed-use development with civic spaces that complement the historic parts of the town centre.”

At present, the centre houses around 15 retailers, plus a community arts centre and an indoor market hall.

Salford is following in the footsteps of a number of other northern councils that, having seen one major retailer after another depart the high street for good over the last decade, have bought shopping centres of various sizes in order to take control of their town centre economies.

Oldham Council bought the Spindles centre for £9.5 million in 2020, and decided in 2021 to self-deliver a redevelopment, bringing in council offices and co-working areas to the upper floors while retaining some retail. Blackpool and Bolton are among other councils that have taken over key shopping centres.

In September 2022, Bradford Council bought the “underused” 1970s-built Kirkgate Market in a £15.5m deal that will see Primark relocate to the newer Broadway, taking the space vacated by Debenhams.

By taking the Kirkgate site, the council will double the footprint of its proposed City Village project, meaning 1,000 homes can be introduced to the city centre. Another retail pitch, the Oastler Centre, is already in line for closure as part of the project.

Elsewhere in Yorkshire, the same month saw Wakefield Council seek cabinet approval to buy the Ridings centre.

Councils in both Wigan and Wirral have formed joint venture companies with developers to take forward projects, the former at the Galleries, bought in 2018, and the latter working with experienced regional developer Muse in a wholesale town centre project including the Pyramids centre.

In virtually all cases, the central thrust of the project is to reduce the reliance on retail, adding in leisure attractions, hotel space, offices and residential as civic figureheads look to maintain or re-establish the attractiveness and functionality of their central areas.

However, timing is everything. Sefton Council paid £32 million for the Strand in Bootle in 2017, an asset valued at just £14 million by 2021. Retail’s decline is seen most starkly with the sale this month of a “trophy asset” in Manchester’s Corn Exchange. Bought by Aviva for £75 million in 2005, it was subjected to a £30 million food and drink-led revamp, but has now been offloaded for just £43 million.

Councils have invested in other types of property, notably Warrington Council buying Birchwood Park business park for £205 million in 2017. The line is that with council budgets being slashed by central government, they need to create income streams in order to support ongoing council services.

Property investment is not as risky for councils as in the private sector. Many councils have financed acquisitions by borrowing from the government’s Public Works Loan Board, which typically offers repayment over 40 to 50 years at low rates – although these rates have climbed in the last few years.

Salford City Council’s position is that Eccles, as a key town centre, hasn’t seen the growth experienced in central Salford, Greengate and at Mediacity and the Quays.

Although this is undoubtedly true, many Salfordians would point out that the glitzy development in those locations is unreachable to many, and what is needed here is something altogether different and more relevant to locals.

And in fact, there is already a hint of Eccles potentially attracting the glamour end of development. Silverlane Developments secured planning permission last year for two projects, one a 256-apartment 25-storey tower, the other a 23-storey tower. Delivery of such projects is another matter, of course.

As for the shopping centre, the council will begin a programme of engagement, consultation and local events in the coming months, with residents encouraged to share their views and opinions to help shape Eccles’ future.

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