Tunbridge Wells Borough Council acquires the RVP shopping centre

THE FUTURE of Royal Victoria Place (RVP) is in the hands of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) since it struck a deal to acquire the lease from the current owners.

The Council has owned the freehold of the town’s shopping centre since it opened in October 1992, but has now acquired the leasehold from current holders British Land, who have owned the site since taking it over from Hermes in 2018.

The local authority believes owning both the freehold and lease will give it greater control over RVP’s future, viewing the deal as a “commitment by the Council to the town centre and its future prosperity”.

The cost of the deal, which was given the go-ahead by Full Council on April 26 is not yet public knowledge, but the Council has stated that no money has been borrowed nor have cuts to services been planned in acquiring the lease of the largest retail location in town.

The news was announced on the TWBC website last Thursday (October 5) at 5pm and reaction so far has been fairly positive.

Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark told the Times: “Everyone wants the RVP to thrive and I wish the Borough Council every success in its ownership.

“Clearly, it will be important to be transparent about how much council taxpayers’ money is being spent on the RVP both now and on any works that might be needed during the weeks and months ahead now that the council is responsible for them.”

Council Leader Ben Chapelard (Lib Dem), commented on X (formerly known as Twitter): “I’m excited for Tunbridge Wells as TWBC takes control of RVP. We’ve listened to residents & invested in the heart of our town. The future is full of exciting possibilities for the centre, town & borough.”

Prospective Liberal Democrat MP for Tunbridge Wells, Mike Martin, told the Times: “The purchase of RVP is good news for the town. My Council colleagues have taken back control of the biggest shopping centre in the Borough, protecting its future.”

The 99-unit shopping centre, which is already home to industry giants including Marks & Spencer, JD Sports and Boots, as well as a number of independent retailers, will be hoping to attract a range of new businesses to its units. RVP currently has a vacancy rate of 33 per cent, including Ely Court and the food court.

Conversations with potential occupants including retailers, leisure operators and food and beverage providers have been kept under wraps for now, however, the Council said it has received advice that there are “retail and leisure names who want to come to Royal Tunbridge Wells”.

Ely Court, the arcade linking RVP with Camden Road, will be open for business and looking to attract new tenants.

Project management experts RivingtonHark have been appointed by the Council to run RVP. The company has seen national success in revitalising shopping centres like The Galleries in Bristol and Clayton Square in Liverpool and also has experience of working with councils including Cheshire West and Chester Council. Jobs will be kept as the current management at RVP will be brought over with the new deal and will report into the shopping centre advisors.

It is not unusual for councils to take over failing shopping centres. Canterbury City Council bought Whitefriars shopping centre in 2018, and more recently, Fareham Borough Council near Portsmouth, acquired its shopping centre on October 3, with RivingtonHark appointed to advise, too. A combination of online shopping, the pandemic and recent challenging financial conditions have impacted traditional retail, though the Council believes the prospect of expanding the tenant mix away from retail towards a wider leisure offer presents real opportunities.

Following the recent success of civic centre, The Amelia on Mount Pleasant Road, which sees over 900 visitors a day, the Council hopes that RVP will contribute to the larger project of revitalising the town centre and increasing footfall.

The Royal Tunbridge Wells Together Business Improvement District’s (BID) objectives also align with the RVP’s plans to improve the trading environment. The shopping centre is currently home to 10 per cent of the BID levy payers.

BID’s Chief Executive Officer, Alex Green said he is “delighted” with the news and “excited” for its future.

“One of the more regular comments I hear from both businesses and residents, is that the shopping centre needs new investment and direction.

“It is therefore heartening that Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has responded to this feedback from its constituents and has taken decisive action to expand its ownership of the freehold to additionally acquire the leasehold and thereby fully take over the custodianship of this key strategic element of the town’s offering.”

He went on to add: “TWBC have local knowledge and so will come into this with a realism that to be successful the centre may need to be a ‘hybrid destination’, a growing trend in many town centres, which will include more leisure-focused operations that will bring people, businesses, and investment to the town.”

A recent Retail Study and Health Report commissioned as part of the Council’s work to develop a Town Centre Action Plan recognised the RVP shopping centre as having the potential to be “transformational” in resetting the town’s vitality and viability.

A Council spokesperson said that changes to the centre will happen gradually, and that repair work has already started to ensure the whole of the Royal Victoria Place car park will be open in time for Christmas.

Share this article

Recommended articles


Please enter a search term below.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter