Hopes over Merry Hill investment plans despite owner's £502m losses
Assurances will be sought over future investment at Merry Hill with its owner announcing overall losses of a staggering £502m in just six months.
The Brierley Hill centre has the second highest rate of empty shops of any of the intu group’s centres, with 6.6 per cent vacant – twice as many as at this time last year.
Intu is the latest big name to take a hit as the UK’s retail sector continues to struggle.
A huge £650m has been wiped from the value of the company’s shopping centres since last summer, with £75m cut from the value of Merry Hill.
The figures come despite plans to pump £100m into improving Merry Hill over the next few years, with a new cinema and new restaurants in the pipeline.
Around £15m is committed to work at the centre while a giant new Next store is about to open on the site of the centre’s former Sainsbury’s supermarket.
Dudley Council leader Patrick Harley said he wanted to be sure investment planned by Merry Hill would not be affected by the slump in value.
He said: “I will be seeking assurances about the level of investment that will follow. They need to be trying to make it more modern, more accessible. It will be a concern if the level of investment promised doesn’t materialise.”
Dudley South MP Mike Wood said: “I speak to intu regularly and I know how important Merry Hill is to them as a company.
“It is absolutely vital to us, it is one of the largest employers.
"The way people shop changes and we have seen the impact on the high street shift away from shopping centres to online and it’s about how they adapt to that.”
Shares at intu, which took over Merry Hill in 2014, have slumped as a result of the loss and the company announcing the departure of its chief executive.
The shopping centre company made a £503.4m loss in the six months to June 30, compared to a profit of £122.7m during the same period of last year.
Despite the losses, Intu chief executive David Fischel claimed: “During a period of weakening sentiment in the retail market, which has impacted shopping centre valuations, Intu has delivered a resilient operational performance in the first half of 2018.
"This reflects the high quality of our business which was able to perform in a challenging retail environment.”