M&S to be halved in size - and 16 town centre flats created on upper floors
PUBLISHED: 16:51 12 August 2019 | UPDATED: 17:55 12 August 2019
Felixstowe's empty M&S store is set for a major revamp designed to ensure it doesn't stand empty for years.
After an expert analysis by consultants employed by the owners, plans have been submitted to almost half the size of the retail area.
The delivery bay area in Highfield Road will be demolished and a new floor added which will mean the upper floors can be turned into 16 flats.
It's all a far cry from the 1980s when the council suggested the building could be demolished and in its place a shopping arcade could be built to link Hamilton Road and the Highfield Road car park - an idea never taken up by the site owners or M&S.
The premises in Hamilton Road have stood empty since April after Marks and Spencer closed the store after 80 years.
Community leaders and residents waged a campaign to try to persuade the company to keep the shop as a food only outlet but it said closure was "the right commercial decision".
Now Occidental Ltd has applied for planning permission for a project which would see the ground floor commercial space reduced from 578sq m to 311sq m, with extensions and conversions to create two studio flats, eight one-bed and six two-bed apartments.
Documents submitted to East Suffolk Council say 16 employees would work in the shop compared with 30 previously.
There appears to be no chosen end user yet. The premises remain for rent for £130,000 a year with business rates of £40,824.
Architects Barefoot and Gilles said: "The starting point for the design was to revive underperforming accommodation, the current configuration of which is no longer in demand."
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.
A retail report by property agent Fenn Wright said there was limited demand for larger retail units in the region and smaller retail units with limited ancillary areas are vastly more desirable than larger stores.
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.
"In light of the above, it is considered that the proposed reduction in retail space will have no harmful impact on the viability and vitality of the town centre and is in fact likely to have a beneficial impact as a result of the retail unit being more desirable to the market due to its size.
"The benefits of the proposal will be further maximised as a result of the increased footfall from the residential component of the proposal."