THE owners of the Martingate Centre in Corsham are shocked and puzzled after their plans for a £1 million investment were rejected without reason by Wiltshire Council, which has refused to sell them the centre's freehold.
Father and son duo Bill and Andrew Hall want to buy the freehold of the Martingate Centre from Wiltshire Council, so they own the buildings instead of renting them, and last September offered the full market value. However their offer was turned down - which they say goes against the need for investment in the town.
A report published by Wiltshire Council from the Corsham Community Area Framework and the Town Council's Public Realm Study highlights the need for the enhancement of the shopping area, among other recommendations. Andrew Hall described the council's refusal to support his plans as ''disconcerting", saying his firm planned to spent 'around £1 million' on buying and revamping the centre.
“Quite frankly, we are shocked,” he said. “We are very proud of the great businesses that our tenants run, but the centre itself is in need of an update. It is showing its age and it is not a beautiful space at all and I don't think it plays to the town's strengths.
“It seems very strange that when we told Wiltshire Council that we totally agreed with their recommendations and want to invest accordingly, that they refused to remove the key roadblock. It’s a real slap in the face for Corsham."
Corsham Town Council's chief executive David Martin said: "Corsham Town Council is keen to see further investment in the town centre and we hope that Bill and Andrew Hall will soon reach an agreement with Wiltshire Council that would enable significant improvements to the Martingate Shopping Centre.
"An improved Martingate would also be good for all the businesses in the town, not just the centre’s tenants, as it would make the town more attractive to residents and visitors alike and would encourage everyone to discover all that Corsham has to offer."
A spokesman for Wiltshire Council said: "We have been in discussion with Martingate Centre Limited to explore the options for refurbishment of the existing shopping centre. Martingate Centre is subject to a 150 year lease to the current operators, Martingate Centre Limited, which we believe provides sufficient surety in the site to enable redevelopment. We value the ongoing support given to the local economy and would welcome proposals to improve the appearance of the centre.”
Andrew Hall, who runs the business with his father, says he suspects that the council's estates office are concerned about their intentions - even though the cash-strapped council is selling other property assets which they do not need.
"We have ideas that we are ready to put to planning to improve the look and quality of the centre," Andrew added. "We have no desire to expand and we have continually committed to the car parking arrangements. We are a family business and we have a long term stake in the town and large scale developments are not economically viable.
"We cannot have a proper dialogue with Wiltshire Council in absence of a reason and I can only hope that the council go out and see their property consultants and have a hard conversation about what to do."