NEW LOOK FOR TALISMAN SQUARE?

Ambitious plans to transform the heart of Kenilworth could be unveiled within weeks.

Talisman Square has been bought by Cobalt Estates from previous owner Jalna for an undisclosed sum.

And the firm is keen to improve the state of the beleaguered precinct.

A spokesman said: "The company is now assessing a variety of options to improve the scheme and talking to a number of interested parties.

"This consultation will take a number of months before concrete and detailed proposals can be put forward."

Hugo Hawkings, chief executive officer of development partner Discovery Properties, said: "We think this is a good investment.

"The scheme has tremendous potential. We like Kenilworth - we think it is a good, strong town.

"We are aware of the history surrounding Talisman Square. Residents and tenants have had their hopes raised before on a number of occasions, only to have them dashed. We want to propose things we know we can deliver."

Bill Wareing, the agent for Talisman Square, believes proposals for a radical alteration of the shopping centre will be lodged in the next two months.

He said: "I don't think the status quo is an option for anyone, the retailers or the owners.

"The owners need to drive it forward, and I'm sure there will be some news on that. I hope it will come through to the planning stage in the next couple of months.

"We've got to get away from the white tiling that sums up the 1960s. We've got to improve the canopies, possibly look at bringing some of the shop fronts forward, enhancing the landscaping, relocating the public toilets, extending to the back, improving and re-orienting the car park.

"We have 15,000 square feet of empty office space above Talisman Square - there may be alternative ways of using that.

"That might be back-up space for retailers or even residential, getting more people to live in the town centre. I hope within the next couple of years we will make major inroads into improving it."

But Mr Wareing warned that Warwick District Council must take the opportunity to avoid repeating what he believes were mistakes in previous years.

He said: "There have been proposals to refurbish Talisman Square for many years - when I originally got involved, it was to extend the scheme to the back and refurbish it. Although the planning officers recommended approval, it was turned down at the local level. It went to appeal, and it took 12 months to get the planning consent they thought they could get locally.

"Not everyone wanted it - I remember going to a meeting at the DeMontfort and there being 150 people there saying 'we don't want any changes'. They have got that. But if the consent had been given immediately, Talisman Square would have been extended and refurbished. It would be a different Talisman Square from what there is now.

"By the time planning consent was obtained, the market had changed, their occupier for the unit at the back had gone away, and therefore they missed the opportunity to create development value to refurbish it. That can't be allowed to happen again."

Mr Wareing also defended Jalna about the lack of progress in refurbishing the square.

He said: "It takes a long time to refurbish and improve something that has been so neglected over the years. A lot of the actual structure has remained exactly as it was when it was built in the mid-1960s. What we have done in recent years is some refurbishment of individual units as and when they became available.

"What we did with Stead and Simpson when there was an attempted reassignment of that to a retailer which we didn't feel would complement the square and would jeopardise other people's trade was to take it back. Now there is an application to extend it. We are in close discussions with two major multiple retailers to take that unit, and it will be one of the best in the town. But until we know we've definitely got planning consent, we can't take that forward.

"They need to get the planning consent for the extension in order to generate the development profit to justify refurbishing the square. It's not a question of just doing the odd 20,000 improvement - there will be hundreds of thousands of pounds which need to be spent on the fabric."