OPINION: Myth busting the Green Lanes purchase - David Worden

North Devon Gazette

I am delighted that North Devon Council was brave enough to take the decision to purchase the Barnstaple Green Lanes Shopping Centre.Â

To me it is fantastic news. Some may say that there are other things which need doing but this was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity and fits so well with our vision to improve the retail experience in the centre of Barnstaple.Â

Green Lanes came on the market just at a time when NDC has obtained finance from the Future High Street fund and added £4.5 million of its funds to improve the Pannier Market and Butchers Row area of the town. It, therefore, makes logical sense to include Green Lanes in the regeneration project.Â

I can, of course, understand why some people have made comments on social media concerned about the Council’s motives and questioning whether it is a wise decision at a time when more people are shopping online. When the centre was put on the market we took expert advice and a very robust business case was formulated.Â

I can assure everyone that our motive is to enhance the middle of the town so that it becomes a real destination centre. Working with Barnstaple Town Council and other partners our vision is to ‘restore and strengthen Barnstaple’s status as the heart of civic, commercial, educational, cultural and community life in North Devon in the mid 21st century. It needs to be resilient in the face of the challenges presented by the digital economy and the attractions of competing locations.’ We are determined to do our best to ensure that the town has a vibrant heart and shopping centre.Â

Concerns have been expressed that North Devon Council has no experience in running shopping centres. That is true, but our Property and Regeneration Team will be working with the centre manager, Craig Bulley and his team who will continue to support the centre’s tenants and shoppers. In addition the council will be supported by Praxis, a specialist property management and investment company. Praxis is very experienced in this field, managing a number of shopping centres throughout the UK both for themselves and local authorities. We have done our homework and taken expert advice.Â

Comments have been made about the state of the building particularly as when it rains it reveals leaks in the roof. Over the next five years we expect to spend £1.5 million on maintenance and repairs as we upgrade the centre. We have a vested interest in ensuring that it is kept in good repair so that businesses attract customers and Green Lanes flourishes.Â

Amazingly this purchase we believe will not cost the council tax payer any money, in fact quite the opposite. The acquisition is being funded through the Public Works Loans Board which offers extremely favourable interest rates on loans for local government projects. The rents from the different units and the income from the car park will more than cover this and the cost of maintenance of the centre. Profits from this venture will help the council to maintain our statutory services despite our budget shrinking by around 40% in the last ten years. At the same time tenants are going to be reassured that we are not planning increases in the rents as we wish to see all the units used and businesses flourishing.Â

We are looking to support new and local businesses as well as attracting regional and national retailers as our aim is to increase the vitality of the centre. This acquisition shows the forward thinking and commitment of North Devon Council as we wish to enable the potential of the centre of Barnstaple to be realized. For the moment it is business as usual but I am looking forward to seeing improvements being made. I am proud that we are determined to help future proof Barnstaple’s town centre and provide benefits for our community.