WORRY OVER SHOPS' FUTURE

FEARS are growing over tycoon David Ross's portfolio of substantial business interests in Harborough town centre.

Reports in the national press say the co-founder of Carphone Warehouse, who owns a mansion in the Harborough district, is experiencing financial difficulties at his real estate firm Kandahar, which has reportedly breached the covenant on its bank loan.

Kandahar owns the St Mary's Place shopping centre in Harborough, as well as the two buildings in High Street which house the Subway restaurant and the Monsoon clothes shop.

The financial wranglings at Kandahar have raised speculation that the future of its seven UK shopping centres could be in doubt.

On Kandahar's website, which has not been updated on its 'news' section since 2006, it says Mr Ross is the "100 per cent" owner of the Kandahar Trust.

The Daily Telegraph reported on January 1 that the entrepreneur had assured creditors that he was "hopeful" of restructuring 247m of borrowings with HBOS by December 2009, after admitting he had breached covenants on the loan.

The breach forced the company's auditors PWC to warn of "material uncertainty'' that cast doubt on Kandahar's ability to continue as a going concern in the property group's 2008 accounts.

Mr Ross reportedly insisted that the 2009 target was no longer necessary because of improving market conditions.

Workers at Kandahar's Piccadilly office in London were yesterday declining to answer questions from the Mail.

Tenants in St Mary's Place yesterday said they had received no correspondence from Kandahar or its management company.

John Hill, president of Harborough Chamber of Trade, said: "How this could affect the town in the long-term is difficult to say. Nothing has been confirmed and it's just speculation."

Cllr John Everett, Harborough District Council's business portfoilo holder, said: "St Mary's Place has a natural value and I'm sure there would be other investors happy to move in should anything happen. In retail terms, Harborough is one of the best places in the country and St Mary's Place has a number of big names."

Mr Ross bought the former Nevill Holt boys' prep school, near Medbourne, in 2000, and an estate in Brampton Ash in 2002. In November 2008, his 1,500-acre Brampton Ash estate went on the market for 7.75m. It was the scene of an horrific double murder in April 2006 when Mr Ross's step-sister Fiona Marshall (41) and her boyfriend Richard Flippance (44) were stabbed to death by her estranged husband Alex Marshall, who then set fire to the bungalow they were staying in.

St Mary's Place opened in the early 1990s and comprises 24 retail units, one kiosk and The Peacock pub. It was original owned by Bryant's before Boots Properties mounted a takeover in 1995. It is not known when Kandahar bought the site.

By Alex Blackwell

l Worries...St Mary's Place shopping centre in Harborough.