Revealed: What the Sovereign Centre will look like after £1.7million facelift
- Credit: North Somerset Council
Plans to re-purpose Weston's Sovereign Shopping Centre have been welcomed by councillors.
On February 11, North Somerset Council approved a business plan to repurpose the High Street shopping centre.
The council's executive approved the plan for the Sovereign Centre and the commissioning plan for the appointment of consultants and contractors to undertake works to convert vacant retail space into new, mixed-use space.
The appointment of an operator to manage the space was also agreed by executive members.
Any change in name to the Sovereign Centre will be subject to an engagement and consultation exercise. Weston General Stores is a temporary name and the public has been asked to help find a new one.
The first phase of the project will create workspace on the ground floor, a bike hub to hire and repair bikes and work on the roof’s electrical structure in order to host rooftop events.
It will be funded by the £1.765milion Getting Building Fund awarded to the council in 2020 from the West of England Combined Authority. Any subsequent phases will be funded by a £65,000 grant from the Department of Transport Access Grant.
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Speaking at the meeting, councillor Ash Cartman said he wants the centre to move beyond solely being a shopping experience and becoming a ‘shopping, working and leisure space’.
Cllr Robert Payne added: “It’s pretty obvious which way town centres are going and the pandemic has moved these along, we do need to adapt and change things.
“There is still a role for retailing in town centres, but it has to be more focused on smaller, independent traders with smaller units.
“Weston has a significant advantage over other towns as those that rely solely on retail will suffer the most.
"We still have millions of visitors coming to the seafront each year and it’s becoming more important for the High Street to become better connected to the seafront and the Sovereign Centre could be key in doing that.”
Jon Walton, shopping centre manager, told the Mercury he is 'excited' for the plan to be implemented.
He said: "We are really excited here as a team, it's nice to see the ideas come to fruition. There are lots of ideas for rooftop events, artisan markets, working with Weston College and much more.
"We feel very lucky to have such a supportive local authority that wants to invest and repurpose the town."
The business plan sets out the challenges, opportunities and a new vision for the shopping centre.
The new space will help attract small and micro businesses and bring customers to local restaurants and cafés.
The evening economy will improve as businesses and visitors come to the town centre for 'its cultural and arts attractions'.
New cycleways and storage facilities will support people to adopt green forms of transport and encourage more casual visits to the town centre and seaside.
The plan also identifies capital works to make seasonal use of the rooftop car park, enhance the entrances, signs and lighting as well as looking at future energy efficiency measures of the building.
The proposal will assist in achieving objectives within the corporate plan 2020-2024, 'by transforming Weston's town centre into a place that builds on the town’s assets and enhances the resident and visitor experience, promotes mental and physical wellbeing and contributes to the council’s target to become carbon neutral by 2030'.
The previous Conservative council administration acquired the Sovereign Centre in August 2018 for £21million, and according to papers published by the council the centre is now worth £4million.
The initial business plan was prepared which focused primarily on consolidating the income in the short-term before reviewing the future direction that the council might wish to take the centre in.
Since then the council has adopted the Weston Placemaking Strategy which has set the council’s objectives for the town centre but, over the same period, town centre retail has been struggling with rents falling and vacant space increasing.
This has been followed by the coronavirus pandemic, with the three lockdown closures adversely impacting further on the operation of the centre.