THE future of one of York’s biggest and best loved shops looks assured after planning officials concluded part of the building could be converted into flats – without affordable housing having to be funded.

The managing director of the iconic Barnitts store said yesterday that if councillors vote in line with officers’ recommendations next week, the necessary investment could be made to safeguard its future for the next generation.

The family firm and Oakgate Group are seeking permission to turn part of the current shop, including the former Drill Hall building in St Andrewgate, into 10 townhouses and two apartments.

Barnitts’ future was left on a knife-edge last November after councillors deferred the scheme to allow the District Valuer to help them decide whether they should agree to waive the need for the developers to pay a commuted sum towards affordable housing elsewhere.

Barnitts and Oakgate said previously they 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 and in plans for a ‘click and collect store’ in James Street, York.

A report to the committee meeting next Wednesday says: “The valuer also found that the scheme was not viable if an off-site affordable housing contribution were sought.”

Officers recommend approval subject to an agreement to secure funding only towards education and open space, but with an updated appraisal needed should the development not commence within two years.

A Barnitts spokesman said yesterday that funds from the development would be ploughed back into the remaining store and also the planned ‘click and collect store’ next to the recently opened Lidl in James Street.

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

“The Drill Hall was previously used by the Territorial Army and was bought by Barnitts around 25 years ago and converted into retail space.”

Barnitts managing director Paul Thompson said yesterday that gaining approval from councillors for the planning application was crucial to allow the firm to invest in the city centre and to safeguard jobs.

“Despite talks at the original meeting that the viability assessment process could take a matter of weeks, it has taken 11 months to get back to committee and we now need a decision on the plans,” he said.

“During that time, it has been tremendously challenging but we now more than ever have to adapt to the retailing changes following the pandemic and the changing behaviour of shoppers.

“Now I urge councillors to approve these plans to enable us unlock this investment and help the city centre.

“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.”