Legal of General (the operator of the Dolphin Centre) and Poole Council have been renegotiating the lease structure relating to the Dolphin Centre and surrounding land, at L & G’s request. At the Full Council meeting on Tuesday 15 November, the Conservative administration is likely to push through a motion that will reconfigure the ownership interests in this area in line with L & G’s demands and against the interests of residents of Poole.
The proposal agreed with L & G will result in:
- welcome investment in the Dolphin Centre malls and Kingland Crescent and Square; and
- a sensible simplification of the complex leasehold and freehold structures in this area, which will result in the Council owning most of the land in the Dolphin Centre area, and L & G leasing it from the Council.
However, it is likely to deal a serious blow to the Council’s ambitions to regenerate the northern part of Poole’s town centre because the Council:
- will agree to retain the Dolphin car park, which is located behind the bus station, in its current location for 25 years;
- has not insisted that the annex building adjacent to the bus station, which currently houses Subway and other shop units, is transferred to the Council.
Both the car park and annex lie within an area identified for regeneration, which also includes the bus depot and Seldown coach and car park. The Council has a long-held ambition to link the Lighthouse to the town centre by creating an attractive public square surrounded by new retail and leisure facilities in this area. However, the Council’s failure to secure development rights to the annex and car park means that:
- the Council could be forced into building piecemeal developments around the ugly concrete infrastructure of the annex and car park;
- the Council will find it much more difficult to replace the bus station with a modern passenger-friendly facility;
- the Council significantly reduces its options for an alternative crossing over the railway in the event that Network Rail’s realises its ambition to close the existing level to pedestrians; and
- regeneration of this part of the town centre is unlikely to be achieved successfully.
The improvements that L&G are committing to make to the Dolphin Centre are unlikely to transform the offer sufficiently to attract the additional visitors that the town centre needs to become successful. They will also be time-limited, probably lasting for 10 to 15 years. However, in return, the Council is accepting a permanent reduction in the percentage returns that it receives in respect of property that it leases to L & G, and is extending the leases from 96 to 150 years.
The Conservative administration sees L & G as the town centre’s only hope, as it lacks the vision and proactivity to develop other options. L & G has clearly realised and encouraged this belief. The Council put itself in a weak negotiating position, and entered negotiations without clear objectives and no bottom line. The fact that L & G are requiring the Council to enter into this agreement before it invests either shows that it purchased the Dolphin Centre for too high a price, or is prepared to exploit the Council’s naivety. The Conservative administration has described L & G as a long term partner and believes that L & G would engage with any proposals that the Council comes up with for wider regeneration. However, all the evidence suggests otherwise. L & G has consistently refused to consider how the Dolphin Centre estate can be integrated within wider regeneration. We would not be surprised if L & G attempts to sell the Dolphin Centre to another operator once it has made the improvements and secured the extended lease term.
In summary, we do not feel that the agreement that has been reached is good value for the people of Poole. In the Cabinet meeting on 1 November, Conservative Portfolio Holder for Regeneration Ian Potter declared that 25 years was a short time and gave the impression that he would be comfortable if wider regeneration did not take place during this period. This attitude and the agreement of this deal with L & G is likely to result in parcels of land in the north of the town centre being developed in piecemeal fashion and the area remaining an unattractive option for residents of the Borough and visitors.