Martin Perry, retail property development director of Henderson Global Investors, was speaking in Winchester last Thursday after meeting joint partners, the city council.
Henderson awaits the results of the public inquiry into the council’s attempts to buy all the land needed for the new shops, offices, flats, car park and bus station development in the Friarsgate-Broadway area.
In a rare interview, Mr Perry said: “If this (the CPO) does not go through, I do not know where this leaves Winchester. It will be another ten years before it is sorted.”
He said it was possible that work could start as soon as next September on relocating St Clements surgery to Upper Brook Street and on the new bus station.
Fears raised by leading retailer Jeremy France that Silver Hill could blight the High Street above Southgate Street were downplayed by Mr Perry. He was more optimistic: “Premises like Game which closed (in March) are now all taken at record rents. We are trying to arrest a little bit the flow of money that is disappearing to WestQuay in Southampton. It is all about making Winchester more attractive for people to shop.”
He said the benefit from Silver Hill would boost the whole city centre although he understood retailers’ concerns. But he added: “The floor space of shops at Silver Hill is 55,000 square feet. It is not a massive build that will change everything.”
Henderson points out that their optimistic view is supported by research analysis by Colliers International Town Performance Matrix 2012.
Colliers categorised 364 towns into five groups: thriving, improving, stable, degenerating and failing. Winchester is categorised as ‘thriving’ and ranked sixth out of 364. It was in the same category for 2011.
Mr Perry said details of the scheme might be tweaked but could not now be fundamentally altered without breaking the development agreement that would trigger a costly and complicated European Union-wide tendering process.
“The numbers will change, but they always change,” he said. For instance, technical developments could mean that the bus station need not be as large as proposed.
One of the criticisms of Silver Hill is that the design by Allies and Morrison was too ‘samey’ and dominant, threatening to dwarf the rest of the city centre.
Mr Perry said there was no chance of dropping Allies and Morrison but there was some flexibility in the styling. He said he would “like to look at” the idea proposed by Winchester architects Robert Adam and Huw Thomas to soften the towering effect by setting back the top one or two storeys of the scheme.
“We are not sitting here with ears closed, marching straight on. We are listening to people and where we can we are prepared to make alterations providing we do not get caught in the procurement
issue,” he said.
He also stressed that Henderson was not looking for a quick profit and exit but see Silver Hill as a long-term investment in Winchester where they already own Next in the High Street.
Mr Perry said he would like to buy the Brooks Centre, demolish it and rebuild with shops facing onto the street instead of the insular shopping centre where the entrances of most of the bigger shops except Beales, Waterstone’s and Primark are inside.
“Some scheme are controversial to begin with and then people grow to like them. The Brooks was hated in the 1980s and it’s still hated today.”
Meanwhile negotiations are continuing with Sainsburys and their landlords Birmingham-based King Edward VI Foundation over their opposition to the CPO.
An announcement by the planning inspector Christine Thorby could come as soon as the end of October.
But London and Henley, who own part of the area, could appeal causing further delays.