Merrion Centre owner furloughs staff as it takes care of key workers

Merrion House in LeedsMerrion House in Leeds
Merrion House in Leeds
Property developer Town Centre Securities is furloughing staff across its property, car park and hotel businesses in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Leeds-based firm said the board has agreed to a 20 per cent salary reduction for three months and it is in the process of agreeing further cost saving initiatives.

It has deferred VAT payments and other taxes due to HMRC and has paused all capital projects, with the exception of The Cube in Leeds where work is continuing and it is closely monitoring the situation with the contractor.

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The group said the health and well-being of its staff and stakeholders is of paramount importance. Since the outbreak of the virus it has been following the latest official Government guidelines and advice across its portfolio and the vast majority of staff are working from home.

Half of its portfolio is let to retail and leisure tenants. Around a third of these properties are currently open and trading to some extent.

The Merrion Estate, which makes up more than 40 per cent of its portfolio, has one third of its retail and leisure tenants operating, including key outlets such as Morrisons, Iceland and Boots. In addition, the ibis Styles hotel and the CitiPark car park are also operating.

The firm said CitiPark has been hit the hardest and since the lockdown it is seeing a substantial reduction in usage and income in its car parks.

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The group is supporting essential services and workers, and said it is actively engaged in the community, particularly in Leeds.

Its ibis Styles hotel is the only hotel open in the city, where the group is providing accommodation for key workers. It is also providing free parking in a number of its CitiPark branches for NHS workers.

The group said it is in detailed and on-going discussions with tenants.

For the rent quarters starting March 25 and April 1, TCS billed £4.9m of rent and service charge. As at April 8, it had collected £3.5m or 71 per cent of charges, with a further £700,000 or 15 per cent of payments deferred, totalling £4.2m or 86 per cent of the amount due.

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This compares with over 90 per cent in more normal circumstances at this stage.

It is working with remaining tenants to agree payment plans and said many tenants are awaiting receipt of Government support which it hopes will, to some degree, unlock further payments.

Edward Ziff, TCS chairman and chief executive, said: “These are unprecedented times and we are working tirelessly to support all of our stakeholders whilst doing everything possible to manage the business through this challenging period.

"I am encouraged by the level of rent received for the current quarter and want to thank our tenants for working with us. TCS has proven to be a conservative and resilient business over its sixty-year history, and I believe that continues to be the case.

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“We welcome the measures the Government is putting in place to support the business community, and hope that the business rates relief given to retail and leisure operators will be extended to car park operators such as TCS, all of whom are being impacted by the lockdown.

“We will continue to update the market as and when appropriate.”

The group said it is too early to quantify the impact of Covid-19 on the business and it is suspending all previous guidance on performance at this time.

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