Belfast Telegraph

Crown Estate in the hunt for £700m portfolio

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland businessmen John B McGuckian and Ken Cheevers have received a bid from the Crown Estate for one of the most prized assets in their shopping centre portfolio, it has emerged.

They are weighing up a number of bids for the eight-strong portfolio, which has a combined worth of well over £700m, with an announcement expected in coming weeks.

John B McGuckian and Ken Cheevers are respectively better known as an industrialist and former chairman of UTV plc, and the owner of McLaughlin and Harvey.

But their companies Foyleside Ltd and Abbey Centre Ltd also hold a string of shopping centres and retail parks – including Foyleside, Forestside and Abbey Centre Shopping Centres in Northern Ireland.

It also includes Fosse Park in Leicester – the asset tipped to receive the most offers and with the highest value, at £350m – as well as other centres in the Republic and Scotland. All parts of the portfolio have attracted strong interest though it is ultimately expected to be broken up.

The Northern Ireland assets have a combined value of around £200m.

Crown Estate, an independent company which manages the property assets of the Crown, yesterday confirmed it was intent on acquiring more retail property.

James Cooksey, head of The Crown Estate's regional portfolio, said: "As one of the top five owners of regional retail property in the UK, The Crown Estate continues to seek opportunities that align with our investment strategy and we are considering a bid for Fosse Shopping Park in that context."

A spokesman yesterday refused to confirm that it had proceeded with a bid. However, the Belfast Telegraph understands the Crown Estate's offer is one of a number of bids which are now being weighed up by the vendors.

Estate agents Savills in London is looking after the sale of the assets in England while Savills Belfast office is acting in the sale of the Northern Ireland shopping centres.

However, Savills refused to comment on the sale process yesterday. 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.

The other assets in the package are the Marshes Centre in Dundalk, Palace Exchange in London, the Avenue shopping centre in Glasgow and Priory Meadow in Hastings.

Belfast Telegraph