The Spires shopping centre in Barnet High Street is up for sale for £25 million and the agents are promoting the option of a new owner possibly replacing some of the shops with several five-storey blocks of flats.

The suggested sale price is way down on the £40 million which was paid by the Canadian pension fund AIMCO when it purchased the complex in 2015.

This is yet another indication of the dramatic decline in the value of shopping centres due to the impact of lockdown and the massive switch to online shopping which is putting pressure on town centres across the country.  

Real estate advisers Savills believe the five-acre Spires site offers great potential for being redeveloped with a mix of retail and residential development.

“We are already receiving a lot of interest from developers and investors who see the potential for regenerating the Spires with a mix of alternative uses”, said Mark Garmon-Jones, Savills’ head of shopping centre investment and repurposing.

He told the Barnet Society that the Spires’ appeal to investors was that there was space in and around the centre for future redevelopment. An added attraction was its location in one of London’s fastest growing boroughs.

A brochure prepared for the sale includes an aerial view of how the centre might look if it was redeveloped while retaining the Waitrose supermarket and NCP car park at the Stapylton Road entrance.

The existing High Street entrance, with its two spires from the former Methodist church, might remain but the existing courtyards and malls could be replaced with a large courtyard formed around five storey blocks of flats with retail premises on the ground floor.

In promoting the sale, Savills suggest the Spires would remain “anchored” by Waitrose and also its existing tenant line-up which was “primarily community and convenience focused” with a strong mix of retailers including H&M, Savers and JD Sports.

“The scheme is currently 94 per cent let by floor area and also benefits from a 436-space customer car park...and this is a rare opportunity to acquire a dominant food anchored, town centre scheme...quoting a price of £25 million reflecting a net initial yield of 7.5 per cent.”

But Savills also emphasise the Spires’ potential for regeneration with a mix of alternative uses, including residential.

In 2019 the Spires celebrated the 30th anniversary of its opening and its future had seemed more assured after the addition of a new H&M fashion store which was built as part a £7 million investment in the centre by AIMCO (Alberta Investment Management Corporation) which has now put the Spires on the market with its partner Ellandi.

Ownership of the Spires has changed at regular intervals.  In 2013 it was sold by UBS Triton to the William Pears property group after it outbid a £34 million offer from Redefine International.

Investment in the centre by the Pears group included the construction of a new, more inviting High Street façade which replaced a rotunda but kept the two spires after a public vote in favour of their retention.

Pears sold the centre to AIMCO for £40 million in July 2015 which opened a new store for the Swedish fashion chain H&M.

The prospect that much of the shopping centre might now be demolished and replaced with flats was a matter of "considerable alarm" said the Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers. "It would be completely wrong if the Spires was replaced by housing. We need to retain our shops and we need the Spires to remain the driving force in a successful and thriving retail sector in Barnet's town centre."

With the Spires back on the market, there will be renewed uncertainty over the future of the twice-weekly Barnet stalls market which is held on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the bandstand entrance to Waitrose.

There is also continuing uncertainty about the future of the market’s previous site off the St Albans Road where planning permission was granted in November 2018 for the construction of a 100-bed Premier Inn.

Premier Inn’s holding company Whitbread said at the time that it planned to open the new hotel in time for Christmas 2020.

Since the approval was given there has been no sign of any construction work on the site – which had been a temporary car park – and no indication of a revised opening date, which is only to be expected after the slump in hotel bookings and the loss of 6,000 jobs within the Premier Inn chain.

 When planning permission was granted for a 3-4 storey hotel and ancillary restaurant, Barnet Council said the development had to begin within three years from the date of approval -- a time limit that expires on 29 November 2021.