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Developers consider next move after ‘very disappointing’ M&S revamp rejection

PUBLISHED: 08:02 13 April 2020

Campaigners outside Marks and Spencer in Felixstowe on its final day of trading in the town.  Left to right: Roy Gray, Ann Wimhurst, Mike Titchener, Daphne Mann, Margaret Morris    Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Campaigners outside Marks and Spencer in Felixstowe on its final day of trading in the town. Left to right: Roy Gray, Ann Wimhurst, Mike Titchener, Daphne Mann, Margaret Morris Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Archant

Developers who put forward a proposal for a £6.3million transformation of Felixstowe’s empty M&S store to create a new shop and 16 flats have been left “very disappointed” by its rejection.

Marks and Spencer Felixstowe Picture: GOOGLE STREETVIEWMarks and Spencer Felixstowe Picture: GOOGLE STREETVIEW

Developers who put forward a proposal for a £6.3million transformation of Felixstowe’s empty M&S store to create a new shop and 16 flats have been left “very disappointed” by its rejection.

East Suffolk Council has refused the project because it says it could harm the viability and vitality of the town centre and the plan is 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 company is currently considering how to proceed with the building.

A spokesman for the applicants, said Occidental Ltd were “very disappointed” with the council’s decision to refuse the planning application and had felt the plans were a well thought out and well-designed proposal to help reuse and re-energise the former Marks & Spencer building.

“In doing so the council restricted the opportunity to agree any positive changes that could have allayed their concerns,” said the spokesman.

“The proposal received the support of Felixstowe Town Council, Felixstowe Society and some surrounding residents who complimented the design and recognised the benefits of retaining this important retail use whilst better utilising and adding to, otherwise redundant floorspace.

“Such investment and local engagement in the UK’s high streets is crucial in the current retail climate but the building remains vacant and unused.”

The district council though felt no case had yet been made to reduce the size of the current shop.

Its research showed there were still companies needing larger premises looking for sites at the resort.

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 create additional danger for pedestrians.

In documents submitted to the council on behalf of Occidental Ltd, agent ECE Planning Ltd said a reduction in the retail and ancillary floorspace would be likely to increase the prospects of achieving a letting for a retail use and reducing the time the store would remain empty.

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.”

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