Companies House – the government department that regulates businesses – has struck Central Market in Royal Victoria Place (RVP) from its list of registered firms for not filing any accounts in two years.
It means it can no longer exist as a business and cannot continue to trade.
The news will come as a blow to many in the town, who hoped the food market would increase custom to the shopping centre, which has struggled with departures from big chains.
Not only did BHS abandon its site in 2016 after the retailer collapsed, but other big brands, such as GAP, H&M and Topshop disappeared during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Central Market opened in 2019 in the empty Ely Court – the arcade attached to RVP that opens onto Monson Road.
Set up by Spanish businessman Joan Ferras Qunitero, the food hall had a number of stalls that were owned directly by Mr Quintero as well as several franchises.
When it opened in October 2019, the street market promised to revitalise the ailing Ely Court, which had sat empty for a number of years, and included pop-ups such as Wok and Sushi, The Argentinian Grill, and Indian Street Food.
These franchised vendors paid a percentage of their takings to Mr Quintero, who was supposed to pass it on in rent to RVP.
But the pandemic has meant that footfall has been dramatically reduced, with one stallholder in Central Market telling the Times at the end of last year that takings were down 60 per cent in 2021 compared to when they first opened.
The Times has now learnt that not only have none of Mr Quintero’s staff been paid since November, but also no rent has been passed onto to the shopping centre since it opened.
Despite repeated attempts to contact Mr Quintero, he has been unavailable to comment.
When this newspaper contacted the London office complex where his business is headquartered, we were told he had ‘not been seen for weeks’ and ‘was unlikely to return’.
In Ely Court, many of the street vendors seem to have packed up and gone.
It is hoped a deal can be struck to keep any that wish to remain in RVP.
A spokesperson for Royal Victoria Place said: “We’re aware that as of January 4, Central Market Ltd has been given notice to dissolve by Companies House.
“We’re working with the vendors and will update on plans for the future in due course.”
MP ‘SAD’ BY DEMISE
Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark welcomed the opening of the food hall back when it launched in 2019, which was on the eve of the last general election.
Back then he also promised to ‘hold British Land to their promise to rejuvenate the centre if I am re-elected’.
When the Times informed him last week that it had now been dissolved, he said: “I’m sad to see the Central Market close.
“To have opened as a communal place and then endured two years of Covid was very tough and I’m grateful for the hard work that everyone put into making a go of it.
“As the retail and hospitality trade revives, I hope that it will be possible to find a new operator so that it can spring back into life as soon as possible.”