Published: 11:14, 21 March 2018
| Updated: 07:14, 22 March 2018
The Royal Victoria Place is being sold.
The shopping centre at the heart of Tunbridge Wells is due to change hands in May, after British Land agreed to pay the current owners, Hermes Investment Trust, £96m for the property.
Hermes bought the centre from the previous owners Westfield in 2012, paying £159m for a deal that included the Castlecourt shopping centre in Belfast and the Friary centre in Guildford.
Two years ago the company secured planning permission to extend Royal Victoria Place by 300,000 sq ft of retail space and add a cinema, but despite its ambitious plans centre has actually been bleeding tenants and it is thought that around a quarter of the 91 units are currently vacant.
British Land is one of the UK's biggest property holders, owning £13.5b worth of assets.
Among its 174 retail centres the company is currently achieving an occupancy rate of 98%.
The company has not revealed whether it intends to build out Hermes' unfulfilled planning permission, but its company ethos is to combine retail and leisure options.
Charles Maudsley, the firm's head of retail, leisure and residential, said: "We recognise as well as wanting high-quality retail space, shoppers increasingly wish to combine retail outings with other leisure activities."
He said: "Our acquisition of the Royal Victoria Place is in line with that approach."
The leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, Cllr David Jukes, said: “I was pleased to hear that British Land has exchanged contracts with a view to purchasing Royal Victoria Place.
"We have been in dialogue with them for some months and it is clear that they are extremely well qualified to manage the shopping centre and, in due course, to develop it.
"It is clear from our discussions with them that as well as being attracted by our catchment area and position in the retail hierarchy, they were particularly interested by the range of exciting developments planned for Royal Tunbridge Wells.”
The council has its own £72m plans for a new theatre and civic centre at the Calverley Grounds.