Royal Victoria Place FAQs
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has agreed to acquire the Long Leasehold ownership of Royal Victoria Place from British Land.
The Council has owned the freehold of the centre since it was built and believes it is uniquely placed to secure its future and its contribution to the town centre.
The Council is committed to ensuring that Royal Victoria Place continues to play a strong role in maintaining the attractiveness of the town for residents, employers and visitors alike.
We have had a number of exciting conversations with prospective tenants – retailers, leisure operators, food and beverage providers and community groups and, working with experts in the field we are confident that we can increase both footfall and occupancy within the centre.
The Council is the freeholder of the site and has struck a deal to acquire the lease of the shopping centre. Owning the lease gives the Council greater control over the future of Royal Victoria Place, and the ability to influence the economic development of the town centre and wider borough which support the objectives set out in the Council’s overarching objectives (past and present).
In the longer term there is significant added value for the Council in owning both the freehold and the lease; in the short to medium-term it is a commitment by the Council to the town centre and its future prosperity.
At the present time we will not comment on the cost of acquiring the lease because the matter is confidential between the Council and British Land.
The Council has not borrowed any money to acquire the lease.
No cuts to services were considered when the Council was assessing the feasibility of acquiring the lease and no cuts are planned now that the lease has been acquired.
The Council will not be running Royal Victoria Place. We took expert advice from retail market specialists before acquiring the lease and a market-leading team, RivingtonHark, has been appointed to manage the centre for us.
The expert view is there is potential to fill vacant units and drive-up occupancy and footfall, and the tenant mix could be rebalanced away from retail towards a greater leisure offer.
We don’t claim to be experts in running shopping centres. We took professional advice from specialists before acquiring the lease and Rivington Hark who are experienced in this field will manage the centre for us.
Owning the lease is not without significant risks and challenges which can be mitigated to a degree by good asset management. It is imperative for the Council to be supported by an experienced asset manager and that is why we sought expert advice at the very start of this process and retain specialists to manage the centre.
The risks and challenges were considered in detail by councillors, and they had meetings with the specialist advisors before taking their decision to acquire the lease. A Full Council decision to go ahead with the purchase received cross-party support on 26 April.
Town centres are facing challenges however a recent Retail Study and Health-check we commissioned as part of the work to develop a Town Centre Action Plan shows that Royal Tunbridge Wells benefits from a strong and affluent catchment area. The study identifies Royal Victoria Place as having the potential to be transformational in resetting the town’s vitality and viability.
The growth of online shopping, the pandemic and recent challenging financial conditions have had an impact on traditional retail. Prudent management of the centre and the prospect of widening the tenant mix away from retail towards a greater leisure offer presents opportunities not threats.
Negotiations have been taking place over a number of months. The Council would not have been acting in its own (and residents’) best interests if it made its position public while negotiations were taking place. Elected members have been involved and fully briefed throughout the process.
The Council is committed to transparency and details of its transactions are recorded in the annual accounts.
The Council doesn’t own the cinema site. We are working closely with the current owners and doing all we can to encourage them to get on with their development.
Some years ago, when the cinema site was once again up for sale the Council made an offer to purchase it but we were outbid and spending rules mean we would not have been able to pay an inflated price for the site.
The rural areas are as important to the Council as the towns. We have invested over £1.2m in green technology at the Weald Sports Centre, Cranbrook, this will significantly reduce energy use. We have supported the Cranbrook Community Kitchen, provided community grants to parish and town councils, and supported rural visitor accommodation and attractions through Visit Tunbridge Wells
We believe the lease acquisition will strengthen the local economy which will bring benefits to the wider borough.
Over time the acquisition of the Royal Victoria Place lease will mean it contributes to a revitalised town centre.
A stronger local economy will mean benefits for residents and increased income.
The Amelia Scott is already having a beneficial impact on footfall in the town centre with over 900 visitors a day. In the medium term there are town centre sites like the cinema site, the bus depot and Hendy Group, which when developed will mean further additional footfall.
The Royal Tunbridge Wells Together Business Improvement District is focused on increasing footfall and improving the trading environment in the town centre and the prospect of a more varied offer in Royal Victoria Place aligns with their objectives.
Change won’t take place overnight but we expect to see new uses filling the vacant shops in Royal Victoria Place. This will include a move away from just shopping in the centre towards a greater leisure offer.
The advice we have received is that there are retail and leisure names who want to come to Royal Tunbridge Wells. The centre management will be tasked with bringing new tenants into Royal Victoria Place.
Repair work in the Royal Victoria Place car park needs to be done to ensure it comes back into full use, planning for this is under way and it will be carried out after Christmas 2023.
Yes, we will be undertaking engagement with residents and visitors to the centre in the coming months and we will keep people updated on what is happening.
In advance of formal consultation if anyone would like to share their views about the future look of Royal Victoria Place, they can email email@example.com.