Northumberland County Council has acquired the Keel Row Shopping Centre in Blyth with major new development planned for the site including new education, innovation and leisure facilities.
Like many UK retail outlets, the Keel Row Shopping Centre has been struggling for several years and the centre is not commercially viable. Just 8 of the 20 units in the centre are currently let to commercial tenants with only 25 percent of lettable floor space producing a commercial rent.
The Keel Row Shopping Centre remains open until a planned closure in early 2024. The County Council is working with all affected parties to provide support to remaining businesses based in the centre to find new premises within Blyth should they wish to do so and offer support to any affected employees.
Today’s announcement means that following closure, the County Council will ensure the site is brought back into positive use as part of the £90m Energising Blyth regeneration programme to grow, renew and connect the town. The programme is being delivered by Northumberland County Council and funded in partnership through UK Government, Northumberland County Council, North of Tyne Combined Authority and support from other partners.
The County Council has acquired the shopping centre, car park, and the vacant property at 7-9 Bridge Street from Northumberland Estates. Following closure, the site will become the location for a new development area in early 2024.
This will include the new Energy Central Institute. The institute, the second phase of the Energy Central Campus, will be a new higher-level skills and innovation facility, developing expertise at degree and PhD levels to keep Blyth at the forefront of clean energy growth. There are also plans to have a new hotel close by to attract even more visitors to the town. This will also increase activity in the town and provide a significant economic boost. The site will continue to include town centre parking.
Councillor Wojciech Ploszaj, Cabinet Member for Supporting Business and Opportunities, at Northumberland County Council, said: “The Keel Row Shopping Centre has been an important part of life in Blyth for many years but has been struggling. This is despite the efforts of the owner, the managing agent of the centre, and everyone who works there.
“We’ve known for some time the centre was likely to close and that the owners were considering options for closure, sale and non-retail development. While we understand this is disappointing news, the agreement we have reached means that the centre will remain open until early 2024, giving time for all those affected to plan for the future. We are liaising with the current tenants to see if they can relocate in the town centre wherever possible, should they wish to do so, and offer support to employees.
“The town continues to have a range of popular retail businesses and we’re delivering major improvements beginning this summer. This includes the new cultural venue which will house a new three screen Jam Jar cinema plus improvements to Market Place and Bridge Street. The acquisition means we can bring forward more development in the town centre including investment in educational, innovation and cultural activities. This will make the town a more welcoming, safe and popular place to visit attracting a wide range of people wanting to work, learn and enjoy all the town has to offer.”
Michael O’Driscoll, Commercial Property Investment Director at Northumberland Estates said: “We have owned Keel Row Shopping Centre and car park for several years and despite additional investment into the site and ongoing efforts to market retail units within the centre, there has been a sustained decline in tenancies.
“The pandemic was incredibly tough for high street businesses and sadly, the Keel Row is no longer a viable commercial venture. We have been trading at a loss for a considerable period which is unsustainable. The tenants have been made aware of the sale and the proposed plans.
“I appreciate that this is disappointing news but our agreement with Northumberland County Council means that there is now time to plan for the future and attract new opportunities that will bring the town back to life.”
Cllr Warren Taylor, Mayor of Blyth Town Council said: “I would like to stress the disappointment that Blyth Town Council feels regarding the impending closure of the Keel Row, whilst recognising the situation Northumberland Estates have found themselves in with the centre no longer commercially viable. We have been assured that the County Council will be encouraging the remaining tenants to stay in the town and offer support to employees if needed.
“We are optimistic that the development of the cultural venue in the Market Place, alongside the other Energising Blyth projects, will provide a boost to retailers in the town centre and encourage other businesses to invest.”
Cllr Kath Nisbet MBE, County Councillor for Croft Ward said: “I’m sad to hear this news as I’m sure many in the town will be. I remember in days gone by when the Keel Row was thriving. Unfortunately, this has not been the case for some time.
“As councillors we have done everything we can to support the Keel Row but due to the fact that there is less than 50 percent of businesses operating, Northumberland Estates took the difficult decision to close. I hope that businesses still based in the centre will relocate in the town.
“I’m very conscious that it continues to be a challenging trading period in Blyth but the town and its business community still has a lot to offer.”
For the latest information on Energising Blyth, visit: www.northumberland.gov.uk/energisingblyth