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