Southport – Its Indoor Market – What goes around comes…….

In my latter days as a Sefton Councillor I opposed the rebuild of Southport Indoor Market, indeed my Lib Dem Council Group did too. It was pushed through via a Tory/Lab coalition on the then balanced council. We Lib’s said it was not a wise project and that we felt the rebuild would not be the economic success which was at that time being promoted. It seems our concerns were well placed.

The BBC has an article on its web site about the current situation of the market – see link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-49045174

I mentioned the rebuild of Southport Indoor Market a while back when Sefton Council bought Bootle Strand Shopping Center and here’s a link back to that posting:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2018/12/29/sefton-council-will-it-be-buying-more-shopping-centers-in-the-borough/

Councils buying up retail buildings/shopping centers seems to be all the rage these days as they desperately try to combat the demise of high street retail and on an emotional level you can see what they are trying to do. However, from a public policy perspective the buying up of shopping centers, indoor markets etc. must be highly dubious and financially very risky.

I never thought that a rebuilt Indoor Market for Southport would be financially sustainable as a retail operation and sadly my fears seem to have been proved right. Likewise Sefton Council buying the Strand Shopping Centre never looked to me to be anything other than a risky short term fix to a complicated set of economic/regeneration challenges in Bootle.

I get that when retail is doing well the rents may well outstrip all the costs of being a property developer and that good returns can be made but the retail market is very much like a big dipper – big highs and big lows.

That property developers are backing off/delaying investing further in shopping centers (Maghull and Kirkby come to mind locally at present) and are willing to off load such retail developments onto local authorities is telling. If the experts can’t make the books balance satisfactorily how on earth are inexperienced councils going to do it? Yes, maybe councils are willing to simply break even but that is a dangerous approach in itself as decent profits are needed in the good years to help smooth out the bad years and the ongoing cost of maintenance.

My head still says that apart from in exceptional circumstances (Kirkby may well be such a circumstance) council’s should be very wary of thinking they can be successful property developers. The pages of Private Eye have been full of such failures for many years.

Sefton Council – will it be buying more shopping centers in the Borough?

Bootle New Strand shopping centre

In what can only be seen as a surprise move last year Sefton Council splashed out over £30m of public money to buy The Strand Shopping Centre in Bootle, a move that shocked many in these times of austerity for local authorities.

But it seems that buying shopping centres is quite the fashion for local councils these days as the article below details from the BBC website:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46625912

I’m the first to say that I’m highly sceptical of such moves by cash-strapped councils – it’s a massive gamble that could go horribly wrong. I had not realised that Wigan Council had purchased The Galleries but having walked around it’s all but deserted upper floor before Christmas you really do wonder what that council can do to bring back the lost retail outlets.

Of course, Sefton Council’s previous big move into retail property development was to take on the rebuild and running of Southport Indoor Market a few years back. This was another hugely controversial investment which I and others on the Council at the time opposed.

But as Sefton and indeed other councils are now firmly into retail property development will this mean other shopping centres locally will be snapped up at lowish prices using borrowed public money? Makes you wonder, especially when private sector owners seem to struggle to find the resources to upgrade down at heel shopping centres such as Maghull Square.

I’m not advocating that Sefton buys up more retail property, because I think it has too much risk attached to it, but if the Council’s Labour rulers really do think that acquiring shopping centres is the next big thing for municipal socialism why stop at Southport Market and Bootle Strand?

Thanks to both Roy Connell and Keith Page for the leads to this posting

Bootle – Pugh lambasts Council over yet more money public being thrown at Strand Shopping Center

Bootle New Strand shopping centre

Following the recent news that Sefton Council intends to throw another £3m+ of public money at the Strand Shopping Center in Bootle the Leader of the opposition on the Council, Cllr. John Pugh has this to say:-

“Having burdened us with £32 M pounds of debt buying the asset, Sefton Council wants to spend another £3.I million pounds this year on their new toy to enable councillors to play “shops”.

The council should concentrate on its day job and stop pretending it’s a player in the risky retail market.

The fact that a year after the purchase of the Strand, it’s having to fix the roof shows how far its out of its depth.

We were told extensive checks were made prior to purchase. Looking at the roof might have been a good idea!

This is embarrassing for the council and wasting the money of hard-pressed, council tax payers.”

Bootle – Sefton Council to spend another £3.15m on Strand Shopping Center

Rear view of Bootle New Strand shopping centre

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/sefton-council-revealed-plans-spend-14791514

The Liverpool Echo has the story on its web site – see link above

So on top of an alleged £32.5m purchase price, financed via a loan, Sefton Council is now going to spend another £3.15m on this shopping center. And we all thought Sefton Council was short of a few bob! Not short of money for pet Bootle projects it seems.

Just when are communities like Formby, Maghull etc. going to see this level of investment in their retail facilities from Sefton Council? Maghull Square for example is down at heal and never seems to get the upgrade that it needs to smarten up its tired 1960’s exterior.

I ask these questions yet again. Why buy a Bootle shopping center but not shopping centers elsewhere in the Borough of Sefton? Why is Bootle’s shopping center a bigger priority than those elsewhere? You could also ask why a cash strapped Council thinks investing public money in shopping centers is such a high priority in any circumstances?

With thanks to Roy Connell for the lead to this posting

Bootle – Sefton’s Monopoly Money

Rear view of Bootle New Strand shopping centre

If your Council was strapped for cash and was having big trouble funding vital community services would you speculatively spend what we have been told amounts to £32.5m buying a shopping center, seemingly via off-shore companies and borrow the money to do it? Well most probably you wouldn’t but it’s exactly what Labour-run Sefton Council did in Bootle in 2017

This is of course not a new story but even with the passing of a few months since the purchase it still beggars belief. Whilst Labour refuse to reveal how much the Strand officially cost, newspapers have reported the deal at £32.5m.

But the big question, amongst many that the Labour-run Council refuse to answer, is why buy the Strand Shopping Centre. Why not Maghull Square Shopping Centre, Central 12 Shopping Centre in Southport, a retail park in Aintree etc. etc.

We all know that because of on-line spending retail is not doing well these days and the trend is likely to continue towards more on-line and less retail shop spending. So why is buying a shopping centre in Bootle, which has been troubled by lowering footfall and empty shop units, a good deal for the Borough? Indeed, would the admittedly rather down at heel Maghull Square shopping centre have been a better bet for a speculative purchase as it has not suffered the large number of vacant units that the Strand has since the recession hit us?

You see the stated reason for purchasing the Strand is to bring in rental income that will both pay off the massive loan taken out on the shopping centre, pay for maintenance and future investment in the property and leave money to spare to help run essential public services.

There are huge areas on the Strand that you can no longer access where shop units used to be and a walk downstairs to the lower retail area reveals many vacant shop units. So again I ask the question, if gaining a return to fund Council services was the real objective why not pick a shopping centre in the Borough that is thriving or at least performing better than the Strand is? But then again why buy a retail development at all, aren’t there better property investments around?

Frankly, the purchase of the Strand still does not add up and if, as seems likely, the removal of thousands of civil servants from Bootle and into Liverpool has the predicted big reduction in footfall where will the Labour Party hide its face then?

And Sefton Council is short of a few bob

www.southportvisiter.co.uk/news/southport-west-lancs/sefton-council-announces-purchase-netherton-14295770

The Southport Visiter has the story on its web site – see link above

First over £30m for Bootle Strand shopping center a few months back now this purchase, I wonder where the money is coming from?

Now don’t get me wrong this seems, at face value, to potentially be a positive story which should enable elderly care provision to be continued on this site but bearing in mind how short of money Sefton Council is where does it get the money from to buy a property like this? We know it borrowed a huge amount of money to buy the Strand Shopping Centre not so long ago, so is this purchase also on borrowed money?

And one other thought, another big investment in Bootle by the Bootle based Council. Mm, when are the big investments going to happen in the rest of the Borough?

With thanks to Roy Connell for the lead to this posting