Record Merrion Centre footfall boosts Town Centre

Edward Ziff at the Merrion Centre in LeedsEdward Ziff at the Merrion Centre in Leeds
Edward Ziff at the Merrion Centre in Leeds
Town Centre Securities, one of the North's biggest property developers, reported record footfall at its Merrion Centre shopping mall in 2016 and said the opening of Trinity Leeds and Victoria Gate has turned Leeds into a premier shopping destination.

The Leeds-based firm said Merrion attracted 11.5 million visitors last year, up 3.4 per cent on 2015, and the new Arena Quarter is now fully let.Edward Ziff, '‹c'‹hairman and '‹c'‹hief '‹e'‹xecutive said the Merrion Centre has benefited from the inflow of shoppers coming into Leeds to visit Trinity Leeds and the newly opened Victoria Gate upmarket mall.He added that Merrion has also seen a boost thanks to Morrisons' recovery under a new management team."Morrisons has got loads better as a retailer. They are seeing a higher footfall post refurbishment and they have opened a cafe which is always busy," he said.While Victoria Gate is attracting a more affluent shopper thanks to its key tenant John Lewis, Mr Ziff said Merrion is attracting people with smaller wallets."We are budget and we're proud of it," he said.The firm said that the construction of Merrion House is on track for completion this December and Merrion Hotel and chef Marco Pierre White’s New York Italian restaurant are due to open in April.Mr Ziff said the Merrion Centre should see a big boost once Merrion House is finished.Elsewhere, Town Centre said the Premier Inn at Whitehall Road in Leeds was completed on time and on budget.Town Centre's underlying pre-tax profits rose 20 per cent to £4.2m in the six months '‹to December '‹31.'‹The group took a £2.9m hit to the valuation of its investments compared with a £7.6m gain the previous year, which left pre-tax profits at £2.6m, down from £11.7m the previous year.'‹Mr Ziff said'‹:'‹ "Our portfolio remains resilient and we expect this to continue, despite the investment market'‹ '‹being very slow due to investor caution following the Brexit vote in June 2016."Property developers have seen falls in values following the Brexit vote.Town Centre's finance director Duncan Syers said: "The fall in our portfolio was much less than expected. We had nuggets of good news that offset the market and the negativity since Brexit."Analyst Keiran Lee at Liberum said the group's net asset value was ahead of expectations, continuing the trend of resilient real estate values in the aftermath of the EU vote."Town Centre Securities offers exposure to lagged recovery in regional property as well as significant value potential in development activity," he said. "A conservative management team, aligned with shareholder interest and focused on cash return, provides added attraction."'‹Talking about the controversial issue of rising business rates, Mr Ziff said: '‹"'‹In'‹ '‹contrast to current concerns about rising business rates, we anticipate that there will be an'‹ '‹overall reduction in rates costs for our tenants overall'‹. I'‹n the Merrion Centre alone the reduction'‹ '‹is 20'‹ per cent'‹."The rating assessment in Leeds and Manchester has resulted in reductions in rates. Overall Merrion rates are down which is good for our tenants."He said the group's development'‹ '‹programme is progressing well, with two hotels opening soon, and is expected to generate'‹ '‹significant capital and income growth into the portfolio.“We continue to manage our properties intensively concentrating particularly on income'‹," said Mr Ziff'‹. “We believe that the current low interest and low growth environment is here to stay for the'‹ '‹foreseeable future'‹. H'‹owever, our portfolio is rich with opportunities to grow our income and'‹ '‹profits and therefore our net asset value.”The group raised its interim dividend by 5 per cent to 3.25p.“The dividend increase is really important,” said Mr Ziff.“I’m hoping it’s a sign of things to come.”