THE boss of iconic York shop Barnitts is calling on councillors to approve a redevelopment scheme - against officers’ advice - or risk jeopardising its future.

The department store and Oakgate Group want planning permission to turn part of the current shop, including the former Drill Hall building on St Andrewgate, into 10 townhouses and two apartments.

Managing director Paul Thompson says gaining approval is crucial to allowing the business to invest in the city centre and safeguard jobs.

But officers are recommending refusal on the basis that the scheme does not include affordable housing.

They say in a report to an area planning committee meeting next week: “Officers are not convinced the scheme, when assessed in accordance with national guidance, would not generate a profit that would be expected, based on policy, to contribute towards affordable housing.”

They also say: “In planning terms, the authority is already taking a pro-active approach in potentially accepting harm to designated Heritage Assets, in order to allow re-use of the buildings surplus to requirements.

“If there were excess profit in the scheme overall, there is not an evidenced case that this is demonstrably necessary to be used alternatively to enable the continued operation of a specific retailer in the city centre.

“In any event it is highly unlikely such justification, related to a specific retailer’s needs, would outweigh affordable housing need.

“Refusal is recommended due to the lack of any affordable housing, which is required by draft Local Plan policy as over 10 dwellings are proposed.”

But a spokesman for Barnitts said the firm and Oakgate had already provided extensive details showing that affordable housing was not possible or viable in such a complex building project and would jeopardise the necessary investment in the remaining shop.

“The funds from this development would be ploughed back into the remaining store and also the planned ‘click and collect store’ on James Street, next to the recently opened Lidl,” he said.

“This will ensure that the famous store can continue to meet customers’ changing needs and tackle challenges exasperated by the current Covid-19 situation.”

Mr Thompson said: “We are disappointed that officers are recommending refusal but we are calling on councillors to approve the planning application and help secure the future of Barnitts in York city centre.

“If the council are serious about helping city centre businesses in these uncertain times, then this is their chance to prove it to the public.

“Before the Covid pandemic customer habits had been changing and this has been rapidly speeded up in recent months.

“We bought the drill hall into the store to safeguard our future 25 years ago and now we need to repurpose this part of the building to secure our legacy for the next 25 years and beyond.”

“We need the certainty of a decision from councillors so we can plan our future.”

Andrew Lowson, of York BID, said the plans sounded ‘exciting,’ and were ‘progressive and testament to a retailer that is adapting to consumer habits.’

He said: “Barnitts is looking to re-purpose its floorspace, whilst keeping customer needs at the heart of its offer.

“We welcome the news that Barnitts wish to keep their presence in the city centre.”

Phil Pinder, chair of York Retail Forum, said it supported the application because it was a great example of repurposing space in the city centre and showed how retailers needed to adapt to meet changing customer needs.

“This is now more important than ever with the current challenges the city centre, and all businesses face,” he said.

“Barnitt’s has been a very high profile and successful city centre business for many years and we feel the council should to support it now, as it looks to secure it’s presence in the city centre for the next generations.”

“The proposals will allow investment into the building and customer experience and shows that even long-standing retailers need to adapt to changing demands from customers and challenges from online and other areas.

“We would urge the council to approve this planning application and demonstrate willingness to help city centre business at this very difficult time.”