Belfast Telegraph

Shopping centres on market with a £750m price tag

BY CLARE WEIR

Three of Northern Ireland's biggest shopping destinations are for sale in a deal which could be worth around £750m.

Property Week magazine has reported that Foyleside in Londonderry, Forestside in Belfast and the Abbey Centre in Newtownabbey, are all on the market.

The shopping centres are part of a bigger portfolio held by two firms, Foyleside Ltd and Abbey Centre Ltd, which also includes the Marshes Centre in Dundalk, Palace Exchange in London, the Avenue shopping centre in Glasgow, Priory Meadow in Hastings and Fosse Shopping Park in Leicester.

The portfolio was assembled using substantial loans from Ulster Bank, which is attempting to reduce its property loan book.

The £360m purchase of the Fosse Shopping Park in 2006 was said to be the largest single retail property purchase in the UK since the early 1990s.

It is understood that the potential sale is being run alongside an attempt by the owners - including Ken Cheevers, of construction company McLaughlin & Harvey and former UTV chairman John B McGuckian – to refinance some of the portfolio, which could include a partnership with other investors.

The news comes just weeks after FTSE 250 property company Intu bought Sprucefield Retail Park and two major UK shopping centres from former owners Westfield.

Intu owns 12 shopping centres in the UK, including Manchester's Trafford Centre and the Potteries in Stoke-on-Trent.

Intu paid £69.8m for Sprucefield.

Jim Houston, property director at Cleaver Fulton Rankin, which acted for Intu, said the news that the three shopping centres have been put up for sale is a "very welcome development" and is a sign of an improving property market. Vendors were showing a willingness to put "top quality retail stock" on the market, he said.

"The putting up for sale of these three retail outlets is an excellent opportunity for investors both home and abroad, and there is every reason to expect that institutional investors from Great Britain will continue to show an interest in Northern Ireland."

He said that CFR had also acted for Scottish Widows Investment Partnership in its £30m purchase of a Tesco outlet in Newry last year.

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