WOKING Borough Council is in talks to secure the future of the Peacocks after the shopping centre’s owner, Moyallen Woking Limited, was placed in administration.

Global financial company Grant Thornton has been appointed administrator and will continue its discussions with the council this week.

Four Moyallen companies have been placed into administration – Central Craigavon Limited, Moyallen Properties Limited, Moyallen Woking Limited and Peacocks Centre.

The News & Mail understands that none of the companies are part-owned by or provide services for the council. The council is the freeholder of the Peacocks centre site.

Grant Thornton has advised councillors that administration will not affect shops, and by extension jobs, in the Peacocks.

However, the Liberal Democrats have raised what they see as three specific issues regarding the future of Woking shopping arising from administration:

  • The administrator now has control over which businesses stay in the Peacocks and which leave.
  • That although an admittedly different Moyallen company is a joint partner with WBC in the Victoria Square development, owning 52%, there may still be an impact.
  • The council loaned £6 million to a subsidiary of Moyallen Woking Limited to make improvements, including new escalators and lifts, in the Peacocks and that repayment is now at risk.

The leader of the council, Conservative councillor Ayesha Azad, described the claims as “nasty” and pointed to the proximity of local elections.

“It’s most disappointing the Liberal Democrats are choosing scaremongering tactics to alarm residents, staff and local businesses,” she said.  “We have worked hard to reassure staff as I know that many in shops at the Peacocks centre will be alarmed by the uncertainty.

“The Lib Dems choosing to make people’s jobs an election issue in this way is very disappointing indeed.

“The advice from the administrator is clear, that trading will continue as normal and no staff are at risk from the Peacocks centre going into administration. Why the Lib Dems are splitting from this advice is unclear. It’s nasty and playing politics with people’s livelihoods. 

“The Moyallen company that is in a joint venture with Woking Borough Council is separate and not affected by the current situation. The council is working with the administrator to provide assurances and clarity on the matter.”

Although the council would not be drawn directly on the prospect of its £6 million loan being in jeopardy, the News & Mail understands that it is working to establish whether it may have any further liabilities in Moyallen Woking.

However, the council is likely first to wait and see whether the administrator can save the companies involved or secure a buyer for the Peacocks before assessing any further implications.

It could also make the case that its investment in the town centre, notably Victoria Place, will make Woking as attractive to a new buyer as it was to Moyallen.

The Peacocks centre was bought in 2008 for £115 million by Moyallen Holdings Ltd, described as a Northern Ireland investment company by a report in The Irish Times, in a deal backed by Bank of Ireland.

The centre, which opened in 1992, was acquired from British Land after an extensive search for properties throughout the UK.

“Our immediate priority has been to ensure Peacocks Centre continues to trade as normal under the ultimate control of the administrators, with no operational impact for tenants or shoppers,” said Stephen Cave, head of restructuring for Grant Thornton.

“We have and will continue to liaise with key stakeholders, including Woking Borough Council, as we manage the position and consider future options.”