THE flagship shopping centre in Tunbridge Wells is celebrating 30 years in the town, but a Times investigation has revealed that the ailing Royal Victoria Place (RVP) has lost half its value in the last four years and is haemorrhaging money.
RVP first opened its doors on October 21, 1992, when the late Princess of Wales opened the centre to huge crowds that to see Diana and be the first to shop in the new shopping centre.
The centre marked its anniversary last week with themed balloons and hundreds of cakes from their resident café, family-run business Taste Wells.
Nicky Blanchard, centre manager at RVP said: “We’re thrilled to have reached this milestone and had a fantastic time celebrating with visitors this past weekend.
But the last 30 years have not all been kind to the shopping centre.
The latest owners of RVP, British Land, bought the site in 2018 from Hermes Investment Management for £96million.
Analysis of its most recent annual accounts that were filed by British Land just last month show that the value of the centre has now fallen to below half its 2018 sale price in just the last four years.
According to Companies House, accounts filed by BL Tunbridge Wells LTD – the British Land subsidiary that runs RVP – show the shopping centre was devalued to just £44.7million in March this year.
“Royal Victoria Place has given Tunbridge Wells residents a wealth of memories, stores, and services over the last 30 years, and we can’t wait to continue to support our local community this upcoming Christmas and beyond.”
The same accounts also reveal that over the last three years, the shopping centre has lost more than £82million in accumulated annual losses, partly due to the Covid crisis, as the cost of running the centre has outweighed the value of its plummeting rents.
While the retail landlord has now reduced RVP’s annual losses from a peak of £38million a year in 2020 to just over £11million in 2022, its accounts show it only brought in £6million in turnover in the last year.
Around 10 per cent of its collected rents in the centre – around £800,000 a year – also has to be sent to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, which owns the lease to the site.
Despite a range of new independent businesses opening in the centre over the last 12 months, including The Green Duck Emporium, hairdressers Belgravia and Gymboree Play & Music, only around 50 stores currently occupy RVP which was built with 99 units.
Central Market, a food hall that was set up in the empty arcade Ely Court that adjoins the shopping centre, went bust last year.
British Land has also shelved plans for an £80million upgrade to RVP devised by previous owners Hermes that would have seen a cinema and bowling alley added to the complex.
Instead, the retail portfolio holder spent £11million on a new floor and signage.
A planned leisure facility that would have filled the BHS unit that has sat empty since the retailer collapsed in 2016 was also recently rejected by British Land.
British Land were approached for comment and asked what their plans were for RVP, but nobody responded to our requests.