Bid to rejuvenate resort's empty M&S store thrown out by planners
PUBLISHED: 11:05 10 February 2020
Proposals for a £6.3million transformation of Felixstowe's empty M&S store to create a new shop and 16 flats have been rejected by planners.
East Suffolk Council has refused the project because it says it could harm the viability and vitality of the town centre.
It believes no case has yet been made to reduce the size of the current shop - and its loss would be premature.
Developers Occidental Ltd wanted to halve the shopfloor space of the store in Hamilton Road and allow 16 flats to be created on upper floors.
Extensions and conversions would have created two studio flats, eight one-bed and six two-bed apartments. The rear servicing for the old M&S would have been lost.
Council case officer Michaelle Coupe said the project would "not seek to maintain or enhance the viability and vitality of the town centre, lead to revised servicing of the retail units that will be harmful to the interests of highway safety, be harmful to the character of the area, and fail to preserve and enhance the character of the conservation area and harm the amenity of adjacent residents".
She said: "Whilst the provision of flats in the town centre is acceptable in principle, concern is raised to the proposed ground floor flats and the consequential loss of ground floor retail floorspace within the primary shopping frontage of the town, adversely impacting on the town's health and viability.
"Insufficient evidence has been submitted to prove there is no demand for the ground floor retail space, for retail or other town centre uses such as professional services, banking, restaurants, or leisure and entertainment uses.
"In the absence of sufficient evidence to confirm no demand for the ground floor retail floorspace, its loss is premature."
The loss of rear servicing would put more pressure on Hamilton Road for deliveries, causing the shared space to lose its attractiveness and creating additional danger for pedestrians.
The ground floor commercial space would have been reduced from 578sq m to 311sq m.
In documents submitted to the council on behalf of Occidental Ltd, agent ECE Planning Ltd said the M&S upper floors had been underutilised while the revamped shop space will still be larger than most of the town centre units.
ECE said: "Changes to the supply chain and 'just in time' systems mean that many retailers do not carry the same amount of stock they once did. Fenn Wright note in their report that, in their experience, smaller retail units with limited ancillary areas are vastly more desirable than larger stores. The overheads are substantially reduced, but still offer the presence that retailers desire, particularly when linked with an online connection via click and collect.
"The report concludes that a reduction in the retail and ancillary floorspace will be very likely to increase the prospects of achieving a letting for a retail use which will in turn help reduce the amount of time the unit will remain vacant for."
Occidental Ltd was not available to comment.