Woolworths' Ipswich future in doubt

ONE of the biggest stores in Ipswich town centre could be forced to close in a redevelopment war.Woolworths in Carr Street is heading for a showdown with developers hoping to build the Mint Quarter between Upper Brook Street and Upper Orwell Street.

ONE of the biggest stores in Ipswich town centre could be forced to close in a redevelopment war.

Woolworths in Carr Street is heading for a showdown with developers hoping to build the Mint Quarter between Upper Brook Street and Upper Orwell Street.

The retail giant has said it will not move and wants nothing to do with any redevelopment of the area.

Developer Helical Retail and landowner NCP say they have control of Woolworths' building – and if they don't want to take part in the redevelopment they will be given six months' notice to quit.


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The row has already delayed work on the proposed Mint Quarter – and has left many retailers and civic leaders wondering if it will ever be built.

But Helical and NCP are adamant that it will go ahead – even if it means ditching the main retailer they hoped would anchor the scheme.

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Woolworths said today: "Following extensive research, Woolworths plans to remain at the current Ipswich location as our customers are satisfied with this store.

"Woolworths cannot comment on any shopping development within Ipswich."

Helical Retail managing director Jonathan Cox was surprised to hear about Woolworths' response.

He said:"I have been talking to Woolworths' property director, and this has never been the company's position.

"But if that is their position now we would have to look at invoking the break clause – consider giving them six months' notice to quit.

"But I hope we can talk things over more first."

But while the developers are keen to get work started on the multi-million pound development between Carr Street and Tacket Street, retailers are not falling over themselves to back plans for the six-acre site.

The development has been hit by uncertainty among retailers, who have not been willing to commit themselves to major investment.

The scheme also suffered delays because NCP itself has been sold by its American owner Cendant Corporation.

The role of Woolworths was thrown into doubt after it was demerged from its former owner Kingfisher plc.

Kingfisher bosses had already agreed that the Ipswich store would be the cornerstone of the new development, but nothing had been signed by the time the demerger process began.

Nothing could be agreed during that process – and the new Woolworth Group plc has a very different attitude.

Mr Cox said that 12 retailers had expressed an interest in moving into the Mint Quarter – but work could not start until firm deals were signed with three "anchor" tenants.

NCP owns the freehold of all the land which would be occupied by the Mint Quarter – including the existing Woolworths' store in Carr Street. Mr Cox said:"We have been speaking to NCP recently and the new owners are very keen to step up work on the Mint Quarter.

"We shall be speaking to retailers over the next few weeks, and hopefully things will become clearer during the autumn.

"We would like to be in a position to get the planning process under way as soon as possible – but we can't start giving details of timescales yet."

Proposals for the Mint Quarter were first outlined in late 1999. They were very different from the original Cloisters plan for the site a decade earlier.

Three years ago the developers said the planning process would take a year, work would start in early 2001 and the development would be complete by Christmas this year.

That prediction has proved very over-optimistic. Now it looks as if Christmas this year is the time we will know if the Mint Quarter will ever be built at all.

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