Could Jessica be set free next week?

This time last year the property community was told the European Investment Bank's £100m urban development fund for the North West would be allocating funds and kick-starting projects by now. As the final quarter of 2011 unfolds, there is still no sign of the Jessica fund (Joint European Support for Sustainable Investment in City Areas).

Could the wait be nearly over though? Place North West understands the final proposals will be discussed by the board of the North West Urban Investment Fund – the name for the region's Jessica programme – on 13 October, after which the green light is at last expected to be shown.

The Jessica fund was heralded as the saviour of urban development when it was officially announced by the North West Development Agency in December 2009, in the depths of the UK recession. The fund will provide loans and take equity in mostly office schemes in towns and city centres throughout the region.

The starter pot of £100m was raised from £50m from the European Regional Development Fund programme and the equivalent of £50m in land from the NWDA.

The pot must be allocated by the end of 2015. The funds can reinvest their profits after that date and seek to become self-sustainable.

When it arrives, 60% of the fund will be ring-fenced for Merseyside due to its legacy as an Objective One area. Objective One was the lucrative programme of EU grant support in the 1990s and 2000s when Merseyside had less than 75% of European average GDP. The Merseyside fund consortium is made up of Igloo Regeneration with Aviva Investors Global Services, GVA Grimley, and Royal Bank of Canada Europe.

There will be a second fund for the rest of the North West, called Evergreen. Evergreen will be managed by a consortium of Manchester City Council, Barclays, the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, CB Richard Ellis, Lancashire Pension Fund and Greater Manchester Pension Fund. CBRE estimates the Evergreen fund could launch with £350m when all contributions are combined.

Advisers close to the Jessica approval process seem split on the reasons for the delay – some blame the local authorities for arguing over geographic priorities. Others say European Union civil servants in Brussels and the EIB's head office in Luxembourg have been too wary of the risks associated with launching a new type of structural property fund into a distressed market.

Whatever the reasons, the reality is there are developers waiting and the clock is ticking.

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If Evergreen could be worth £350m with all contributions, how much will the Merseyside pot be? Is Aviva and Royal Bank of Canada putting money in to top up the EU money or will it only be £60m (60% of the original pot)?

By MrD

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