Plans to build more than 80 flats on the site of Stafford town centre’s former M&S store have been thrown out by council officers after concerns were raised about the lack of living space and limited natural light for some of the potential residents.
The massive retail space in Gaolgate Street has been empty for more than four years, following M&S’ move to a new unit in the Riverside Shopping Centre in 2016.
Earlier this year plans were put forward by Bloxwind Ltd to transform the site into a residential development with a smaller retail space on the ground floor.
A three storey building, containing 17 flats alongside shop and storage space, was proposed behind the existing two-storey façade. A new detached four-storey building with 67 apartments was also earmarked for the land, along with a 25-space car park and alterations to the existing access from Salter Street.
But this month Stafford Borough Council’s planning officers refused permission for the development.
The planning officers’ report said: “The form of the proposed accommodation – being entirely only studio and 1-bedroom apartments – fails to deliver the wider community and health and well-being objectives associated with housing provision.
“Whilst the applicant states that all the proposed apartments would accord with the required national spacing standards, the lack of variety, the cramped internal circulation spaces, the use of a service yard effectively as a shared external space together with no balconies or access to communal green space, and limited natural lighting in some apartment units mean that proposals would not create an overall quality of environment for residents that is considered to be providing high-quality homes as required by the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) and the Guide (National Design Guide), and consequently does not represent a form of sustainable development.”
A Parkside resident highlighted the lack of parking spaces and storage room in the flats.
They said: “The plans indicate that the majority of these units are glorified bedsits – hardly what is needed to satisfy today’s housing needs. They may be suitable for a single person or a well-adjusted couple for a limited period but are not really big enough for long term living.
“The flats are small with apparently no storage space for other than kitchen cupboards; 25 car park spaces for a potential 160+ residents is also not nearly enough and on what basis would they be allocated? These studio flat-lets are a recipe for disaster living.
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“However I am in favour of the principal of converting our high streets to residential use.”
The highway authority also objected to the proposals, on the grounds that they failed to make adequate provision on the site for the loading and unloading of large vehicles for service delivery and refuse collection. There were concerns this would increase the likelihood of large delivery vehicles in Gaolgate Street.
CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) Staffordshire supported the application in principle because increasing the number of residential properties in and close to town centres would help reduce pressure to develop greenfield sites.
But the charity added: “We are concerned about the comments from the Housing and Health Services group that, once the bathroom and kitchen are discounted, there is extremely limited living space in several of the proposed flats.
“It is important that all the new dwellings proposed at the site meet the nationally described space standards for the wellbeing of future residents.”