Liberty International has held secret talks with Peel Holdings, owner of Manchester’s Trafford shopping centre, about buying the complex in an all-share deal.

Liberty, which already owns Lakeside in Essex and Tyneside’s Metrocentre, has been working on plans to raise more than £350m through a rights issue. But so far it has been unsuccessful – partly because South African investors control nearly half the company and would struggle to back a rights issue because of Pretoria’s exchange controls, which limit how much of its currency can leave the country.

City sources said a deal with John Whittaker’s Peel Holdings, the company which owns the Trafford Centre, could be one option to plug the funding shortfall. It is thought Peel is one of a number of companies which has approached Liberty.

However, conversations are said to remain at a preliminary stage and striking an agreement over valuation of the Trafford Centre is likely to prove a stumbling block.

Sunday Times