Sir George wrote to the financial institution that owns the Chantry Centre, expressing concern at the number of empty units and asking them to review their rental policy in order to win fresh business for the town. Below is their reply
“I welcome the flexibility that the letter refers to, and hope that the terms they now offer are competitive and new shops open up in the centre.”
10 February 2012
Dear Sir George
Thank you for letter dated 13 January addressed to Paul Smith. This letter has been passed to me as AXA Real Estate act as Fund Manager on behalf of Friends Life Company who hold a long lease on the centre and I am the individual responsible for the letting policy.
We are very much aware of the growing void rate in the centre. This is the result of a number of factors. These are as follows:
1. The economic downturn and the squeeze on consumer expenditure.
2. The growth of out of town shopping including the growing share of non food sales taken by the main supermarket chains.
3. Failure of a number of regional and national retailers in the centre (eg Adams, MVC, Rosebys, Bay Trading, Fopp, Poundworld, Diamonds & Pearls, Klik)
4. The trend for larger towns (eg Basingstoke) to take a larger share of discretionary spending at the expense of smaller retail centres.
5. The impact of business rates based on rental values prevailing before the economic downturn.
6. Town centre parking charges whereas out of town retail competition has the benefit of free parking.
The letting policy that we have in place is very flexible in order to cater for the extremely difficult market in the centre and the town centre generally. We are prepared to let shops on a short term basis on a no rent basis with the occupier only responsible for the costs of occupation in order to achieve this objective. We are well aware that a high level of voids can have a domino effect upon a shopping centre and we are doing all we can to maintain occupancy levels whilst attempting a reasonable return is generated for the benefit of the policyholders.
I should like to assure you that we will continue to ensure every effort is made to maintain a thriving centre.
Senior Asset Manager