Belfast Telegraph

CastleCourt owner edges closer to mall sell-off

By Amanda Poole

The sale of Belfast shopping centre CastleCourt may have come a step closer after it emerged that Australian mall giant Westfield is looking at offloading three malls to its joint venture partner.

Industry magazine Estates Gazette reported that Westfield is in discussions to sell its 50% stake in the 332,300 sq ft centre to joint venture partner Hermes Real Estate, as part of a strategy to focus on its larger UK assets.

The company is understood to be in discussions regarding the Belfast site, the 319,000 sq ft Royal Victoria shopping centre in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and the 149,700 sq ft Friary mall in Guildford, Surrey.

Hermes is understood to have joined forces with another partner for the mooted purchase.

The sale price being spoken of for CastleCourt was £170m when it first emerged in June this year that the shopping centre could be disposed of.

But, in September, the Belfast Telegraph revealed the sale was being delayed by its owners because the three bids it received were not high enough.

Westfield's disposal of the three malls is in line with proposals announced by founder Frank Lowry in the shopping centre and development company's most recent results, which talked about reducing "exposure to less productive assets in the US and UK".

Donald McFetridge, a retail expert from the University of Ulster, said the proposed sale of CastleCourt was not the result of any failing as a shopping destination.

"This appears to have been on the cards for quite some time and appears to fit in with Westfield's overall development plans," Mr McFetridge said.

"Their schemes are hugely successful, particularly their new developments in London with shoppers flocking there to spend their hard-earned cash, even in these economically challenging times.

"The news that they plan to divest themselves of CastleCourt fits in with their overall strategic plan to focus principally on larger-scale developments of the size and scale which they are currently rolling out.

"I don't think it says anything about CastleCourt as a shopping centre but is more in line with their future focus for the company."

CastleCourt, Hermes Real Estate and Westfield all declined to comment.

Land Securities, one of the developers of The Outlet in Banbridge, and a joint venture between private equity company Blackstone and investors Catalyst Capital, are thought to have been behind two unsuccessful bids for CastleCourt earlier this year.

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