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Sold! Norwich’s Anglia Square shopping centre gets a buyer

Anglia Square, Norwich. Photo by Simon Finlay.

Anglia Square, Norwich. Photo by Simon Finlay.

Norwich’s Anglia Square shopping centre has been sold, with the new owners pledging they will invest to make the complex a success.

Memories of Anglia Square

Public affairs correspondent Dan Grimmer was a regular visitor to Anglia Square in his youth...

“I know people in Norwich who have never been to Anglia Square.

“But, when I was a child, it was there, rather than the city, where I’d go shopping with my mum.

“Back then, there was no Asda or Tesco on the outskirts and, as we didn’t own a car, they would have been no use to us anyway.

“Sainsbury’s was the supermarket in Anglia Square and I have fond memories of being bought Victoria slices and jam tarts in the cake shop nearby.

“Martin’s newsagent is one of the few surviving shops from that time. It was a rich source for Superman and Batman comics.

“But it was the Odeon cinema, with its single, massive, screen which I looked forward to visiting the most.

“On one shopping trip, I bumped into a schoolfriend and promptly abandoned my mum to go and see Return of the Jedi.”

What are your memories of Anglia Square? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

The shopping centre has been bought by international investment manager Threadneedle Investments, ending months of speculation.

The deal prompted Brenda Arthur, the leader of Norwich City Council, to hail the sale as “a vote of confidence in the future of Norwich”.

The new owners were tight-lipped about how much they had paid for the 1960s centre, or how much they were prepared to invest in its future.

But they insisted they were committed to the square’s success and would be reviewing investment opportunities in the months ahead to attract more businesses and shoppers to the centre.

The saga so far

The first shops in Anglia Square opened in 1970, but the complex, designed by architect Alan Cooke, was very much a product of the 1960s.

The square took six years to build, but was never actually finished.

The original intention was that Anglia Square would extend to the west, over what is now a car park, to join up with St Augustines Street and Pitt Street.

Throughout the 1970s there were various proposals to plug that gap, mainly by office developments including, at one point, to be occupied by part of the Bank of England.

They never materialised and as a set of draft planning guidelines produced by Norwich City Council and Norfolk County Council in the 1980s stated: “The appearance of the development was allowed to decline during the 1970s.”

Stores such as Sainsbury’s, Fine Fare and Maple & Co have been and gone and Sovereign House is no longer home to workers from Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

But Anglia Square has always remained and there has long been hope for a major revamp.

A succession of owners has taken on the square and promised much. Lagmar Properties paid former owners Quintain £24m for the complex in 2005 and unveiled plans to pump £25m into it.

By 2006 they had sold the property for a £12m profit, without having made the promised investment.

There was renewed optimism when development managers Centenary Ashcroft secured permission, on behalf of Anglia Square Partnerships Ltd, for a multi-million pound regeneration of the complex.

But hampered by the recession, those plans came to nothing. It remains to be seen what the future holds.

However, it is understood planning permission secured for the square on behalf of its previous owners is unlikely to be pursued.

Instead, the new owners look likely to come up with their own vision for Anglia Square’s future, following consultation.

Jeremy Collin, property asset manager at Threadneedle Investments, said: “We are extremely pleased to be the new owners of Anglia Square.

“We believe the shopping centre has considerable potential and we are excited about creating a vibrant business environment for existing tenants and attracting new occupiers to the centre to offer a better retail experience for the local community.

“Over the coming months, and in consultation with key stakeholders, we will be looking closely at how we can secure a commercially viable future for Anglia Square and make it an attractive place to visit, do business and shop.

“We will communicate with local businesses and people before undertaking any major work to the centre. In the meantime, it is business as usual at Anglia Square.”

Threadneedle Investments, which has been keeping tabs on Anglia Square since the mid 2000s, owns 35 retail properties across the country, including Bethal Square in Brecon and Pavilion Shopping Centre in Tonbridge.

Last month, the Norwich Evening News reported how the sale was on the cards, after Northern Ireland-based BTW Shiells, which was managing the square, wrote to businesses to assure them the new owners would be committed to its future.

A major revamp of Anglia Square has been in the pipeline for years, but progress on the facelift was badly hampered because of the recession.

It meant the square ended up in the hands of the National Asset Management Company - the body created by the Irish government in 2009 in response to the Irish financial crisis. The London-based new owners bought it from that agency.

The new owners are keen to stress it is “business as usual” while consideration is given to how to improve the square.

But it looks unlikely that planning permission secured on behalf of the previous owners will go forward in that form.

Those plans, agreed by Norwich City Council, were for 174 new homes, a public square, new shops, restaurants, cafes and a healthcare centre, while Gildengate House, the office block over the entrance to the car park, would have been updated to provide modern offices.

The plans included a 7,792 square metre foodstore, and it emerged last year that Tesco had been involved in negotiations to take on that store.

A spokesman for Threadneedle Investments said the new owners were “very much” open to talks with leading retailers.

Norwich City Council leader Ms Arthur said: “Threadneedle’s investment in Anglia Square is a vote of confidence in the future of Norwich.

“Threadneedle is a major property investor with the ability to improve the existing shopping centre and provide jobs for the city.

“I look forward to the council working closely with Threadneedle to deliver this regeneration, realising the benefits for the wider area.”

Trevor Wicks, who runs the Hollywood Cinema in Anglia Square, said it was still early days, but that he was optimistic over what the new owners had said so far.

He said: “We only found out yesterday, so at the moment it doesn’t mean much to us other than it has been sold.

“We will wait to meet up with the new owners and see what sort of plans they have. Hopefully we will be able to talk to them about the sort of ideas we have.”

Mr Wicks added that, with Anglia Square at close to 100pc occupancy, the future was bright for the shopping centre, but that some investment would help.

He said: “Some of the old office buildings could do with something happening to them. There has been talk that some of them could become student accommodation and that would be good. It would be nice to have people living at the site.

“It’s all early days but it is reassuring that the sale has now happened and we could sit down to discuss things. There is a lot of potential here.”

• What would you like to see happen at Anglia Square? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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