Wednesday, June 19, 2024

New homes and retail units vision for empty department store

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Transformation of the empty former Beales and Westgate department store in Lowestoft town centre has taken a major step forward as revamp plans are being earmarked for approval.

Eastern Daily Press: The former Beales department store remains empty in Lowestoft, as plans are set to be discussed. Picture: Sonya DuncanThe former Beales department store remains empty in Lowestoft, as plans are set to be discussed. Picture: Sonya Duncan (Image: Sonya Duncan)

Having remained vacant and unoccupied in Lowestoft town centre for five years, a new lease of life could soon be in store for the prominent building – provided plans are given the go-ahead next week.

It is another potential boost to the town centre – just months after figures showed more than a quarter of shops in Lowestoft were lying empty.

It comes as JD Sports were this week earmarked for the former Palmers department store on London Road North, while First Light Festival CIC is set to use the former Tesco Metro store as a cultural hub.

Eastern Daily Press: The proposed 3D elevations view of what the former Westgate/Beales department store in Lowestoft could look like. Picture: Panther (VAT) Properties LtdThe proposed 3D elevations view of what the former Westgate/Beales department store in Lowestoft could look like. Picture: Panther (VAT) Properties Ltd (Image: Panther (VAT) Properties Ltd)

A scheme centring around “demolition of existing vacant commercial building” at 141 London Road North in Lowestoft with “construction of five storey mixed use building comprising of residential dwellings on the upper storeys and commercial on the ground floor” along with “cycle parking, bin storage and amenity space” is set to be discussed next week.

Plans will be voted on at an extraordinary meeting of East Suffolk Council’s planning committee north on Friday, May 24 with councillors being told planning officers recommend approval of the proposed development, subject to to the signing of a S106 agreement and conditions.

Eastern Daily Press: The former Beales department store remains empty in Lowestoft, as plans are set to be discussed next week. Picture: Sonya DuncanThe former Beales department store remains empty in Lowestoft, as plans are set to be discussed next week. Picture: Sonya Duncan (Image: Sonya Duncan)

The proposal includes 45 flats across the upper four storeys – consisting of 18 one bedroom dwellings, 24 two bedroom dwellings and three, three bedroom dwellings – as the ground floor comprises five commercial units and 84 cycle storage spaces.

With the building “purpose built in the 1960s for its specific use as a department store” it has attracted generations of shoppers to its premises on the corner of Regent Road and London Road North.

The substantial site – which lastly housed Beales – had previously included chemists, opticians, a cycle company, Lowestoft Water and Gas and the Victoria Arcade.

Eastern Daily Press: The vacant former department store in Lowestoft. Picture: Mick HowesThe vacant former department store in Lowestoft. Picture: Mick Howes (Image: Mick Howes)

Many of these buildings were however destroyed during the Second World War, leading to the entire block being rebuilt in the 1960s – with the site housing the former Co-op and then the Westgate store, before being sold to Bournemouth-based JE Beale plc in 2011.

However, the department store closed in April 2019 and has been vacant ever since.

With 45 new homes and five new retail units earmarked, plans were submitted to East Suffolk Council by Tetrick Planning Limited on behalf of the applicant Panther (VAT) Properties Limited – a property investment company, based in Potters Bar – in May last year.

Eastern Daily Press: The proposed 3D elevations view of what the former Westgate/Beales department store in Lowestoft could look like. Picture: Panther (VAT) Properties LtdThe proposed 3D elevations view of what the former Westgate/Beales department store in Lowestoft could look like. Picture: Panther (VAT) Properties Ltd (Image: Panther (VAT) Properties Ltd)

Since then revised elevations and artists impressions have been lodged for the scheme.

‘A focal point within the town centre’

A planning report to councillors states: “The store was permitted in the 1950s/60s and expanded over the intervening years; in 2019 the department store was closed and since then has stood vacant.

“The proposal is considered to represent a well-designed sustainable form of development that will provide a focal point within the town centre, as well as providing quality amenity for the future residents of the scheme.

Eastern Daily Press: The proposed front and side elevations. Picture: Panther (VAT) Properties LtdThe proposed front and side elevations. Picture: Panther (VAT) Properties Ltd (Image: Panther (VAT) Properties Ltd)

“The new residential units would potentially increase footfall within the town centre which, along with other schemes, are deemed to improve the viability and vitality of the town centre – especially during evening hours.

“The overall scheme provides significant wider benefits, such as; additional housing units in a sustainable location, quality design, quality of amenity, potential cycling improvements, and improvements to the viability and vitality of the town centre via the provision of modern units and increased footfall.

“The economic, social, and environmental benefits from the scheme are deemed to outweigh any identified negative impacts.”

With the proposed building five-storeys in scale – with a recessed ‘penthouse’ top floor – Lowestoft Town Council and four objectors expressed concerns over the scheme.

Concerns over the number of parking spaces required and “the inability for the area to absorb that demand” were cited.

The recommendation however is to “Approve, subject to the signing of a S106 agreement” and 19 conditions.

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