EDITORIAL COMMENT: Friars Walk effort not all wasted
IT gives us no great pleasure to report today on the decision by Newport City Council to ditch developer Modus Corovest and its plans to build the Friars Walk shopping centre.
It has become increasingly clear in recent months that first Modus, then its sister company Corovest, could not raise the cash from the banking fraternity to push ahead with its plans to build an impressive new retail centre in the middle of Newport.
We have all been alarmed at the company's difficulty in raising finance, which, combined with stories of Modus hitting problems with its developments in other parts of the country made the Newport scheme look increasingly fragile.
This newspaper has been a keen supporter of the proposals to give our city a modern, state-of-the-art shopping centre.
We were buoyed by the fact that 75 per cent of the retail space in the planned centre was already let to heavyweight high street stores with both Debenhams and Marks and Spencer agreeing to take the anchor positions at each end of the development.
But the credit crunch came along at exactly the wrong time for Newport.
Planning consents and compulsory purchases were in place and work was due to start on building the centre in 2007, with the hope that it would be completed by the Ryder Cup deadline of September 2010. Then we heard that first one bank, then another, had gone back on its promises to provide the up-front finance for the scheme.
Sadly, once the downward spiral began it appears there was no hope of retrieval. So 18 months, at least, has been wasted and the city council has understandably lost patience with Modus Corovest after it became patently obvious that it could not deliver the promised scheme.
Newport Unlimited, the urban regeneration company that facilitated this development, has been powerless to influence the banks and make the scheme happen.
The people of Newport will not be slow to blame both the council and Newport Unlimited, but we believe that little more could have been done to force the banks to lend the money to Modus once the credit crunch took hold.
If events had happened two years earlier we honestly believe the shopping centre would now be built.
Nevertheless the city HAS to move forward and a lot of the work that has been done on planning approvals and new infrastructure will not be wasted, provided a new developer can be found. Major retailers are willing to come to Newport, so long as they have a decent centre to operate in.
It is now vital that the city council finds a company that can not only invest in Newport but can also provide the level of quality that both its citizens and the major stores will be happy with.