Hanley's City Sentral developers: 'We are absolutely committed'
DEVELOPERS behind the planned City Sentral shopping complex say they have already invested £33 million and are certain it can be opened by 2016.
Realis Estates has pledged to begin working with Stoke-on-Trent City Council on compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) to buy up remaining premises for the shopping centre within months.
A planning application setting out detailed specifications, based on the requirements of its biggest tenants, should be submitted by summer 2013.
But The Sentinel has learned uncertainty surrounds deals with both of City Sentral's flagship anchor tenants.
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Vue Cinemas is eyeing up an expansion at the Potteries Shopping Centre, while Marks & Spencer has suffered a slump in its national retail performance.
The £350 million development on the site of the East West precinct is a critical part of plans to regenerate Hanley.
Capital Shopping Centres, owners of the Potteries Shopping Centre, recently claimed City Sentral would never happen, partly because there was no demand for more retail in an ailing market.
But Duncan Mathieson, managing director of Realis, said today: "What CSC's evidence does not take into account is the amount of leakage from shoppers who are going elsewhere.
"With any of the surveys we have done with local people, 50 per cent have said they don't go to Hanley anymore. A huge number of people go elsewhere and that can't be right.
"City Sentral starts to address that balance – encouraging people to come into this city instead of disappearing to Manchester, Birmingham, Derby, Nottingham or wherever.
"If you're in the top 30 retail destinations, which is where City Sentral would put the city, other major retailers will feel they need to be here – even if it isn't inside City Sentral.
"This scheme also brings in shoppers and families from other areas, who want the cinema and restaurant experience and want shops like H&M and Superdry.
"The issue is that those firms want bigger and better spaces and, at the moment, there's nowhere in Hanley for them to go."
"The demand is there. No retailers have said no to City Sentral, and those that haven't been keen have said it is because they want more space."
Realis says it is close to signing up chains including Next, H&M, Superdry, TK Maxx, Sports Direct, Topshop, Nando's and Pizza Express for places in City Sentral.
But it acknowledged Marks & Spencer, which committed to a 100,000 sq ft department store at the heart of the complex, has yet to finalise the deal.
Mr Mathieson said: "The moment they're back on track they will be fully committed and we hope that will be finalised early next year.
"We're working on other things in case and we're not entirely reliant on that.
"Even in a good market you have ups and downs. This is a bad market. But we have made unbelievable progress.
"In September last year, we had no tenants – now we have 300,000 sq ft of space allocated."
Realis said it has already spent £33 million buying up properties and developing its plans, as well as shelling out £60,000 a month on consultancy fees as it attempts to recruit tenants.
Work on buying up the remaining land through CPOs is to begin early next year. It must still buy up a series of properties in sites including Lichfield Street and Old Hall Street.
Firms such as Argos, which want to remain in place until the development starts but are approaching the end of their lease, will be offered cheaper tenancies.
"We wouldn't be spending this money if we were not absolutely committed to delivering this scheme," Mr Mathieson said.
"We don't envisage problems with CPOs because firms are not indicating they are unwilling to sell out to us.
"It's a major scheme and delays can occur. That doesn't mean it isn't going to happen.
"The automatic reaction seems to be, 'I told you so, it isn't going to happen'. I appreciate that is a history thing, and that people in Stoke-on-Trent have seen this sort of thing come and go before.
"But you haven't seen a new bus station before. That's the first phase of our scheme with the council, and it is happening."
Mr Mathieson said he is not interested in a 'tit-for-tat' row with CSC, but believes only City Sentral can deliver real change for the city centre.
He added: "For them to say it will take us seven years to deliver this is just not the case.
"We've spoken to contractors and believe it will take less than two-and-a-half years to build. If it all goes extremely well, we're only 15 months from starting.
"We can deliver what they can't because retail has changed. People want bigger shops and different things, but their scheme was built 25 years ago and designed eight years before that."
Councillor Ruth Rosenau, cabinet member for regeneration, planning and transport, said: "This new regional shopping centre is an exciting project which will increase the retail offer and footfall in our city making it a shopping and leisure destination.
"The City Sentral development will be built alongside our landmark bus station, creating an important facility and stunning gateway into the city.
"These regeneration projects will have a dramatic impact."
A traders' group today called for the two rival multi-million pound regeneration schemes to work together to support the city centre.
The City Centre Partnership believes both projects have the ability to sustain a cinema complex.
Group spokesman Doug Wardle, said: "A long, long time ago, Hanley supported four different cinemas, so I don't see why it shouldn't be able to now.
"There shouldn't be any debate about it. Cinema has made a revival over the last 10 years or so. People go to see a film and go to a restaurant."