£23m plan for Baytree Centre to “give Brentwood the edge”

Brentwood Borough Council is set to agree a massive spending commitment of around £23m to unshackle the town’s Baytree Centre from its “state of paralysis” to create a new shopping mall and multi-screen cinema.

It comes after the council spent £10.8m on purchasing the shopping centre that has never operated at its maximum potential and has been in a “state of paralysis hindered by the poor selection of dated and unfit for purpose retail units within a scheme which has limited appeal”.

The council says it wants to differentiate Brentwood from other town centre high street locations and will make sure the final tenant mix has a mixture of both national, regional and local operators to “give Brentwood the edge over other locations nearby”.

The investment is part of an even wider commitment for employment regeneration in the borough with £6m earmarked to regenerate the Childerditch Industrial Park located in the south of Brentwood near junction 29 of the M25.

With the property costing £59m and Academy Place a town centre office block costing £15m the total commitment in borrowed funds comes to around £100m.

It is expected that the council will borrow externally from the Public Works Loan Board, however officers will manage the treasury function to maximise the best return for the council and utilise Capital receipts plus short-term borrowing as appropriate.

The council says its plans for the Baytree Centre “enables major a re-shaping of Brentwood Town Centre and provides significant improvement to the local residents in terms of amenities and offer.”

The proposal is to redevelop the site to produce a mix of uses including an Everyman-style cinema, leisure, residential, food and retail combined with an enhanced public realm.

The council adds: “This will create a relevant, vibrant future heart to the town and prevent further negative impacts on the town centre by having a derelict shopping centre.”

Leader of Brentwood Borough Council, Councillor Chris Hossack, said: “When people are more affluent than average and have disposable income they will spend it in a place they want to enjoy and in a nice environment. If the retail offer in Brentwood is not up to scratch they will spend it somewhere else.

“We need to raise the bar so Brentwood is attractive to that level of income but at the same time not forgetting the people who shop in Iceland and some of the budget places.

“When people want a nice cinema experience and pay money for a film and a burger while sitting on a sofa they go to Chelmsford because there is nothing in Brentwood and that is what the Everyman-type proposal is about – to raise the bar to get people to stay in Brentwood.”

He added: “All this is about borrowing and return. We bought the Baytree Centre and we said we would regenerate it and that is what we are going to do.

“What we do know is the interests rates have changed but we still have a job to do and the interests rates are frankly are not bad compared to the 80s and 90s. Interest rates are still low and the reality is interests rates have been stupidly low for too long.

“They have gone up but we can still borrow the money and still make these projects work. The Baytree Centre shows marginal profit but frankly we did not buy the Baytree Centre to get rich. We invested in the Baytree Centre to regenerate and rejuvenate it. And that to me is the responsibility of a local authority – to make sure the town centre is as attractive and inviting as possible.”

Both Childerditch and the Baytree Centre plans are due for discussion at a meeting of Brentwood Council next week.

The redevelopment includes part demolition of some existing 1960’s retail units and an extension of other 1960’s retail units to create a 12,000 square foot cinema, restaurant units and additional retail space.

There will be seven three and two bed muse houses along South Street and improved public realm better connectivity, incorporating Crown Street and the multi storey car park on Coptfold Road.

The main work at this stage will be focused around a new public square, located towards the south of the Shopping Centre, away from the High Street frontage and Chapel Ruins.

It is proposed that construction will start in the middle of 2023 and will be completed by Summer 2025.

A statement to councillors added: “In conclusion, with all the due diligence and the feasibility study undertaken by SAIL, this proposed redevelopment is considered to be a good deal where a major in-borough asset is developed, providing increased revenue, employment opportunities and significantly improving the town centre amenities/attractions whilst contributing to a thriving local economy.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter