by Shelby Hamilton 20-10-2022

BHS store transformation in Southport will bring ‘substantial benefits’ as council backs scheme

Ambitious proposals to transform the ground floor of the former BHS building in Southport town centre will create “public benefits to a substantial degree”.

Sefton Council has now granted planning permission for part of the scheme led by JSM Company Group in Liverpool, hailing the investment for bringing back into use “a prominent and distinct building within Southport’s town centre which has been vacant for some time.”

The landmark building has been largely empty and often vandalized since BHS went into administration in April 2016, to the point where it has been identified by Sefton Council’s Conservation Team as being “Heritage at Risk”.

The green light has now been given for the conversion of the ground floor of the site into five separate ground floor units. These would comprise three retail units facing Chapel Street, a restaurant / cafe and a pub.

The restaurant / cafe unit has already been occupied by Hugo Lounge, which opened in October. World Travel Lounge is due to open soon in one of the new retail units.

A separate planning application to convert the first, second, third and fourth floors from retail to 30 self-contained flats under the Prestige Stay brand is yet to be determined.

In his report, Sefton Council Director of Planning Derek McKenzie said: “The proposed development is acceptable within the established town centre and would positively contribute to its economic function, viability and vitality.

The development will not cause substantial harm to the character and appearance of the Conservation Area.

“It will derive public benefits to a substantial degree in the form of bringing back into use a prominent and distinct building within Southport’s town centre which has been vacant for some time.”

The site forms the ground floor of the former BHS department store which faces on to Chapel Street and Corporation Street whilst the left side elevation forms part of the indoor Cambridge Arcade.

Derek McKenzie said: “The building is recognised by Sefton Council as being a Non-Designated Heritage Asset (NDHA) and has been vacant for a number of years. Consequently it has fallen into a state of disrepair and is now identified by the Council’s Conservation Team as being Heritage at Risk.

“A ‘health check’ of the Town Centre carried out in 2020 indicated that Southport has a relatively high vacancy rate for units when compared to the UK as a whole. It also noted that Southport is a diverse Town Centre, which provides both a traditional retail offer whilst also providing for tourism and a wide number of differing events held throughout the year. Re-developing the site as proposed would bring this long vacant site back into use. It would also make a positive contribution to the economic function of the area and make a positive contribution to the overall vitality and viability of the Town Centre. The policies referenced are in principle supportive of this form of development within this area as a means of contributing towards its economic function and regeneration.

“The building is distinct within the Town Centre however it has been vacant for some time. Owing to a lack of maintenance and general weathering, the building has become dilapidated in parts and is generally showing signs of falling into significant disrepair. In its current form, the building is having a negative impact on the character and appearance of the Conservation Area. As such, the council has identified the site as being Heritage at Risk

“The applicant has proposed to remove the awning to the Chapel Street elevation as a measure to better reveal the significance of the heritage asset. The proposal also includes some minor external alterations relating to the sub-division of units; however these changes are sympathetic and appropriate to the façade of the original building and would not harm the appearance of the shop fronts within this setting.”

The development at the former BHS site is part of a continuing renaissance at both Chapel Street, and in Southport town centre.

The new investment follows the granting of £38.5million for Southport through the Government’s Town Deal scheme.

On Chapel Street, businesses which have opened recently include The Fragrance Shop, One Below and Hugo Lounge.

The £1.4million conversion of Southport Market on King Street into a new food, drink and events venue was completed this summer, while Beales department store opened on Lord Street.

Work is currently ongoing to convert the Cloisters building on Corporation Street into the new Techedia HQ, creating 75 jobs, in a £1million scheme.

The landmark former BHS site was sold for half a million pounds at auction in July.

BHS Southport was one of the chain’s 164 stores which controversially went into administration in April 2016, resulting in the loss of 11,000 jobs nationwide. As well as Southport, BHS also lost shops in Liverpool, St Helens, Warrington and Widnes. The closures ended an 88 year presence on the high street.

Allsop auctioneers sold the ‘freehold department store and development opportunity’ building for £500,000.