Town's shopping centre to be sold
By Benedict O'ConnorMULTI-MILLION-POUND plans to transform a town's shopping centre and move an historic market have been shelved as its owners want to sell it.
By Benedict O'Connor
MULTI-MILLION-POUND plans to transform a town's shopping centre and move an historic market have been shelved as its owners want to sell it.
The Rookery Centre in Newmarket is the town's main shopping precinct and also houses a multi-storey car park and the market.
Its owners, Avril Properties, won planning permission last year to build three new shops, residential flats and a health centre there and to move the market to part of the car park at a cost of more than £5million.
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But it has now announced a plan to sell the precinct and the proposed development has been put on hold while the new owners consider the precinct's future.
Robert Gubbey, managing director of Avril Properties, said the centre was being sold for £17m to Centenary Investments.
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“We run a lot of much larger shopping centres around the country and we found that Newmarket was taking up too much of our time, as much time as our large shopping centres, which are more lucrative,” he explained.
“I like Newmarket and I shall be sorry to see it go, but we wish to concentrate on our larger shopping centres.”
Mr Gubbey said the leisure company that was going to run the health centre had withdrawn its interest and the plans were already being revised before the sale was agreed.
He expected the sale to go through within the next month, but new owners Centenary Investments said it hoped to take control of the precinct within two weeks.
Centenary Investments managing director, John Burmester, said: “It is an exciting opportunity, we want to have a look at the plans before we go any further.
“We understand there was some controversy and we have spoken to the local authority about making some changes.”
He added the immediate concern was to bring the precinct up to date with issues such as disabled access.
A spokesman for Forest Heath District Council, which owns the freehold on the site, said it “welcomed anything which would be of benefit to the shoppers of Newmarket”.
The original plans had raised a storm of protest from residents and shopkeepers who wished to see more shopfronts along the street.
There was also some concern about the loss of the market square, which is used as a car park on non-market days.
Newmarket town councillor Andy Drummond, who lives opposite the site, welcomed the sale.
“I am very pleased this is being reassessed and I would like to be involved in the initial stage as we were toward the end of the last set of plans,” he said.
“Hopefully, this can be an opportunity to save the existing market and I hope the new owners will start with a clean sheet of paper.”