Planned food hall is the first sign of shopping centre refurbishment

Up until now, British Land, who bought the shopping plaza in May last year for £96million, has remained tight-lipped about the refurbishment, but now a company looks set to install a new food hall in Ely Court.

A licensing application submitted by London-based Central Market Ltd, outlines the plan to turn the ailing Ely Place into a ‘food court’ with the addition of bar.

The application, which was submitted to Sevenoaks District Council, who do the central administration for Tunbridge Wells Borough Council for the shared-service of licensing, explained that the food court will be ‘made up of separate units operated by individual operators, selling food and non-alcoholic drink. There is a communal seating area for customers’.

It continued: “A separate unit will act as a bar, selling alcoholic (and non-alcoholic) drinks for consumption by customers on the premises. Another separate unit will act as a wine shop, selling wine for consumption on and off the premises

Central Market, which runs popular London restaurant The French Corner, has also requested a license for playing films and both live and recorded music.

A spokesperson for British Land confirmed the plans. She said: “We are in discussions with Central Market Limited about developing a new food and leisure offering at Ely Court.

“A licencing application has been submitted to the council, and they are seeking feedback from the local community on the plans.”

The news will be welcomed by many, as the 13 vacant units in Ely Court have stood empty long before British Land took ownership of the 280,000 sq ft shopping centre last May.

After buying the flagship shopping mall from previous owner Hermes, the first thing British Land did was shelve £70million plans for a cinema and restaurant extension.

The property developer, which is the UK’s second largest, argued that the plans were ‘outdated’ but promised to bring in more retailers and said they would be ‘investing money in the centre’.

But twelve months after buying Tunbridge Wells’ main shopping centre, the company had not announced any firm plans as yet.

A spokesperson for the FTSE 100 company told the Times last week that any long-term plan for RVP ‘will take some time’ but they were ‘likely’ to conduct a refurbishment of the centre, which they hoped to announce very soon.

Like many major retail centres, Royal Victoria Place has struggled in recent years. More than 20 units sit empty in the main centre, while Ely Place has 13 vacant shopfronts.

When British Land, which also owns the Meadowhall in Sheffield, Southgate in Bath and Fort Kinnaird in Edinburgh acquired the shopping plaza in May last year, it was hoped that plans that would turn around RVP’s fortunes would soon be announced.

But as the retail sector continued to struggle across the country, the UK’s second property developer has been reluctant to announce any commitments.

Internally, British Land has been making changes, cutting more than £2.8billion from its retail portfolio in the last five years. It has also recently combined its retail and offices arms into one department focussed on mixed-use ‘campuses’ that combine shops, homes and office space.

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