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British Land sells stake in Sheffield’s Meadowhall shopping centre for £360m

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The property developer British Land has sold its 50% stake in the Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield to Norway’s sovereign wealth fund in a £360m deal, ending its holding in the site after 25 years.

Norges Bank Investment Management will take full control of the shopping centre, the largest in Yorkshire. It already owned 50%, having first invested in 2012.

Meadowhall opened in 1990 on the site of the former East Hecla steelworks, serving as a symbol of the UK’s shift from heavy industry to a services-based economy.

At the time of opening it was the second largest shopping centre in the UK, according to a council history, and was built at a time when demand for shopping destinations appeared insatiable.

Visitor numbers grew from 20 million in its first year to 30 million by 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic. However, shopping centres have come under pressure in recent years as sales have migrated online.

The deal values Meadowhall at £734m, well below the £1.07bn the FTSE 250-listed British Land paid in 1999 to buy the centre from the original developers, Eddie Healey and Paul Sykes, or the £1.4bn valuation when Norges Bank bought the 50% stake in 2012.

By 2019 Meadowhall had 290 stores plus 50 restaurants across 139,355 sq metres (1.5m sq ft) of retail space next to the M1 motorway. However, the pandemic starkly highlighted the pressures on the sector. British Land wrote down the value of its shopping centre portfolio in 2020 as lockdowns caused rents to drop.

The company has since shifted focus away from shopping centres towards out-of-town retail parks that focus more on fewer, larger retailers, warehouses to cater for online deliveries and “campuses” – developments that mix offices and retail such as Broadgate and Paddington Central in London.

Meadowhall sits beside the River Don and made headlines in 2019 when it provided overnight shelter for stranded shoppers cut off by floods.

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Simon Carter, the chief executive of British Land, said: “Following the sale of Meadowhall, 93% of our portfolio is now in our preferred segments of retail parks, campuses and London urban logistics. We will continue to grow our retail park portfolio; with low [capital expenditure] requirements parks offer attractive cash returns and at 99% occupancy we are delivering strong rental growth.”

British Land will remain as the manager of Meadowhall, receiving fees for running it. The Times in January reported that retail mogul Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group had expressed an interest in buying British Land’s stake.

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