Discussions under way with possible tenants for centre

ADVANCED discussions are progressing for several major non-food retailers to move into a town centre site after plans to open a store were withdrawn, say land owners.

Stockland UK, owners of Billingham town centre, had been in discussions with a leading foodstore for many months to secure it as an anchor tenant in the West Precinct, but have now been told the investment will not go ahead.

But, Stockland has reaffirmed its commitment to the town centre by announcing advanced discussions with alternative tenants are under way and bosses have presented their latest plans to councillors from Billingham.

To support these plans, Stockton Borough Council is also working alongside the land owner to develop proposals for major improvements including public toilet facilities, lighting and paved areas to make it a more attractive and pleasant place to shop.

It follows the significant investment by four other retailers, B&M, Poundland, Cheque Centres and Brighthouse, which will create new jobs when they are all open early 2012.  B&M opened its 16,000 sq ft shop in a former KwikSave store last month.

To date, Stockland, supported by the council, has invested more than £2m in creating modern retail units, funding staff to manage the centre, including a new manager, and installing CCTV systems. 

Alison Robertson, asset management director of Stockland, said: “We are doing everything we can to make Billingham town centre a successful place.  We want to help the people of Billingham and see our investment in the town succeed as well.

The town centre’s retail occupancy rate, for the main area, is now over 95 per cent – well above the national average.”

The council has already invested £18.5m in the town centre with the refurbishment of the Forum leisure complex, which has attracted nearly 200,000 visitors since it reopened in June, demolished the derelict La Ronde and completed a £500,000 renovation of John Whitehead Park.

Councillor Mike Smith, the council’s cabinet member for regeneration and transport, said:  “For the council’s part, we are doing all we can to support and encourage the town’s regeneration. 

“Not only is the refurbished Forum bringing huge numbers of people into the centre, we are looking at ways we can work with Stockland on improving the town centre and encouraging more shoppers and businesses.”