Leisure complex plans for BHS store shelved

Co-founder of Pickering - Polly Taylor

Elite Leisure Collection (ELC), which also owns One Media, publisher of the Times, was planning the £10million attraction in the empty unit say they are now looking for sites outside of the town centre to open the leisure complex.

The plans for the BHS unit, which has been empty since 2016 when the high street retailer collapsed, had been planned to feature the latest in modern attractions over three floors, including a 240-metre go-kart track, a cinema, a number of bowling alleys, and the latest in virtual reality gaming.

The project was set to attract thousands of people to the town centre each week and create up to 50 full and part-time jobs.

But British Land, which bought RVP in 2018 for just under £100million, wanted ‘an unworkable level of influence’ over the plans put forward by ELC, including vetoing certain leisure activities proposed for the site.

While British land does not own the retail unit that had previously belonged to BHS, as M&G Real Estate operate the lease and had agreed to sell the site, the RVP owner has a five per cent stake in the unit where it backs into the shopping centre.


“British Land, the owners of the RVP required an unworkable level of influence and control over the various activities we wanted to install”


Andrew Daniells, Business Director at ELC, told the Times: “The freehold purchase of 95 per cent of the derelict BHS unit had been agreed, the leasehold agreement for the remaining five per cent, which relates to the ‘back of house’ areas of the Royal Victoria Place and a small section of window space adjoining the shopping centre was the stumbling block.

“British Land, the owners of the RVP required an unworkable level of influence and control over the various activities we wanted to install, and which would have created an amazing family leisure venue.

“We engaged the top consultants, specialising in the conversion of disused retail units into hi-tech leisure and restaurant destinations.

“It’s back to the drawing board and our agents are now looking for alternative location options.”

The decision by British Land comes after they also shelved an £80million refit of RVP proposed by former owner Hermes when they first took over the reins at Tunbridge Wells flagship shopping centre four years ago.

In January, the Times also revealed how the food hall, Central Market, that British Land had installed in the abandoned Ely Court to breathe new life into the centre, had collapsed.

Over the last two years, the commercial landlord has refocussed its retail strategy after it was forced to wipe £1billion from its portfolio in the wake of the pandemic.

The landlord has sold numerous retail sites, including a recent 75 per cent stake in Paddington Central in London.

It is also in talks with rival retail landlord Landsec to swap ownership of some of its shopping centres for out-of-town retail parks, including its flagship Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield.

British Land declined to comment on its objection to the ELC plans.

The commercial landlord also refused to confirm or deny whether it planned to sell off the shopping centre or see it redeveloped.

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