EXCLUSIVE: Seven Sovereign Centre leases have already expired prompting uncertainty over future

Weston's Sovereign Centre.

Weston's Sovereign Centre. - Credit: Archant

More than half a dozen leases at Weston’s Sovereign Shopping Centre have already expired, and several more will lapse by the end of next year.

Weston's Sovereign Centre.

Weston's Sovereign Centre. - Credit: Archant

The Mercury can exclusively reveal the leases for seven units at the Sovereign Centre have lapsed, meaning their occupiers can shut down and exit at short notice.

A further six leases are due to expire by the end of 2020.

The shopping centre was bought by North Somerset Council last year for £21million as part of a £100million commercial investment strategy, with hopes of generating cash to pay for public services by borrowing funds to buy money-making assets.

The authority has faced increasing questions over the investment following the news Marks & Spencer (M&S) will close its High Street shop, which links to the Sovereign Centre, in April.

Leases have expired for stores including H.Samuel, Savers, Sonyx and Parsons bakery, while the deals for Roman Originals, Body Shop and EE are due to expire by the end of next year.

The expired leases are holding over under the rules of landlord legislation for negotiations to take place, and these shops can close at just three months’ notice.

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Some leases at the Sovereign Centre have ‘break clauses’, too, allowing shops to cut their tenure short – as shown by M&S, which will close with almost a century remaining on its lease. One-fifth of the units at the shopping centre are vacant, including the entire Galley food court, which cost previous owners Vixcroft £500,000.

Council leader Nigel Ashton is adamant the ‘numbers stack up’ and the centre was ‘a very good purchase’, which will deliver £1million for services each year.

Nigel Ashton.

Nigel Ashton. - Credit: Archant

Speaking at February’s full council meeting, Cllr Ashton added: “I do not think there is much risk. It’s absolutely the right thing to do.”

But fears over the stability of the investment have been raised, with Central ward councillor Mike Bell arguing there has been a lack of planning.

He said: “The target date for an initial plan is this month.

“It’s just not good enough. In the face of several years of falling shopper numbers and retail closures, the council has been flat-footed and slow to react.

“To spend millions buying into the Sovereign Centre with no plan of action and then to take six months or more to come up with one says it all.”