Cwmbrans's former House of Fraser store is to be given a £4.1 million makeover as a new ‘flagship’ fashion retailer and gym.
The redevelopment of the vacant, three-storey building, at the heart of the town’s pedestrian shopping centre, will be financed through a Welsh Government grant which Torfaen Borough Council will hand over to investment company London & Cambridge Properties, known as LCP Group, which bought the whole shopping centre in January 2022.
A council report describes the 38,000 square foot former department store building, which opened in 1964, as a “once a flagship building, now in a poor physical state”. It was considered the “anchor store” of the Cwmbran shopping centre, but closed at the end of June last year.
It says a new fashion shop and gym will “act as a catalyst for attracting new high quality retailers to the town” and it will give other “key partners” confidence to invest in future phases of development within Gwent Square, the centre’s main square bordered by the former department store, the six-storey Gwent House and the Congress Theatre.
The redevelopment will cost £4,155,815, with £2,565,037 provided by the Welsh Government’s Transforming Towns Grant while LCP Group will stump up £1,590,778 in match funding which is 38 per cent of the total. All funds will have to be spent by March 31, 2025.
The council’s director for communities Dave Leech is being recommended to accept the £2.5 million Welsh Government grant when he takes a formal decision on Friday, April 21.
The cash will then be handed over to LCP Group with conditions in place to ensure it meets its funding commitments and with the council having already credit checked the firm and reviewed its books.
According to the council report LCP Group has been working with it since purchasing the centre to “maintain Cwmbran’s position as one of the most successful sub-regional centres within South Wales” with enhancing the “vibrancy and vitality” of Gwent Square one of a number of phased “interventions and investment opportunities”.
The other ambitions are to tackle declining footfall in the shopping centre, attract new food and beverage and leisure operators and create a “family led evening economy” that enhances the town centre outside of traditional daytime retail hours.
To accept the grant the council must also have a ‘placemaking plan’ setting out a strategic 10-year direction for Cwmbran and the council says this is currently in development and has identified Gwent Square as a priority.
Redeveloping the House of Fraser site is the first phase of the development, with later plans intended to revive Gwent House and the square’s “public realm”.
Though provisional terms have been agreed with the retailer and gym, their names are being kept confidential at present with the grant yet to be formally accepted.
The council will also impose a restriction to prevent the sale of the former House of Fraser store that will last for 10 years after the final grant payment is expected in 2025. LCP Group will also have to offer additional assets against which the council can secure a legal charge to cover the grant if there isn’t sufficient equity in the property.
LCP Group will have to meet any costs increases above those budgeted for in the tender and its 38 per cent contribution will be held in a bond, to reduce the council’s risk, while payments will be made in instalments in case of the firm walking away before completion or entering administration.
The council also intends that a legal agreement will give it the right to step in and complete the project using the bond if necessary.
LCP Group will appoint a project manager to ensure delivery of the scheme who will report directly into the council’s strategic regeneration team.