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Plans for 50+ apartments above empty Henblas Square shops approved – with hints development could start very soon

NOTE: This content is old - Published: Monday, Nov 5th, 2018.

Plans to build more than 50 apartments above a derelict row of town centre shops have been granted – with an indication development could start in the very near future. 

All but one member of Wrexham Council’s planning committee agreed to approve the plans to convert the former office space above the Henblas Square shops into 55 apartments in a debate that mainly focussed around the lack of parking in the proposal. 

The plans themselves, submitted by Mandale Group, are made up of 52 one bedroom and and three two bedroom apartments above all the shops, except for the former TJ Hughes / current Techniquest building. 

Henblas Square has been seen as a particular eyesore in the town centre in recent years, with the office space formally used in part by Wrexham Council sitting vacant for some time and all shops departing the area. 

The apartments mark the first potential stage of redevelopment for the site, which was acquired by Manchester based MCR Property in summer 2017. 

Speaking at this afternoon’s meeting, committee chairman Cllr Mike Morris described the application as “important” for the town centre. 

A representative for applicants, Mandale Group, who have submitted the application, said the proposals will bring a “well established town centre building back into use on the first floor”.  Although not mentioned in the meeting, there are long running rumours on a key occupant to take the former BHS building. 

Reference was also made to the Wrexham Town Centre Masterplan, which highlights a new policy to bring vacant space above shops back into use as accommodation, which means this could be the first of many such redevelopments in Wrexham. 

The representative added: “​It is well documented how town centres across England in Wales are struggling with retail units regularly closing, so this development can only be viewed as a positive in that context

“It will have a number of positive impacts on Wrexham town centre. ”

However concerns had been raised by the local community council about the lack of car parking spaces, with reference initially made to the adjacent Tŷ Pawb multi-storey closing at night. 

Cllr Alun Jenkins, who represents the neighbouring Offa ward, said that while he welcomes bringing life and footfall to town centre, he feared a precedent could be set if something wasn’t done to tackle the lack of parking. 

He also noted that under local planning guidance a requirement of 84 spaces should be provided. 

Cllr Jenkins continued: “The concerns I and other members have surrounding the town centre, is granting approval we will be swamped in outlying areas for all cars that need parking. 

“I don’t believe 55 people or families moving in won’t have cars.  There will have visitors, shopping, holidays – all sorts of reasons why you will need a car. 

“There have been things approved in the past where there is no parking in the town centre.  The cars associated come into areas such as mine.  At night there are more cars wanting to park on the streets than places on the street, it will add to problems. 

“We can’t be in position where we are creating one advantage in the town centre if it as the expense of people who live further out. 

“It concerns me that this isn’t a one off.  The way we are going commercial property is diminishing, the need to use for living space will increase.  This is one of many applications. ”

Similar concerns where echoed by Smithfield Cllr Adrienne Jeorett, who said that people already park their cars in the area to walk to work or shop in town. 

Cllr Paul Jones, Maesydre ward, suggested that committee members deferred the decision for a month to allow the applicants to investigate the car parking issue. 

However planning officer Matthew Phillips said the site was a sustainable location and that planning inspectors have taken a “pragmatic view for town centre residential development. ”

Mr Phillips added: “It brings the upper floors into use, which have been vacant for sometime.  It brings people into town in the evenings, is complies with the masterplan and diversity of uses. 

“Parking standards are a maximum, not a minimum. 

“If people are living here it is a matter of choice.  If you need a car it is not the location for you. ”

Council leader Mark Pritchard urged the committee to approve the plans, stating that it is the “investment and regeneration” needed in the town. 

He said: “Highways officers have made it clear they don’t object, the planning officer doesn’t object.  There have to be reasons for deferment. 

“If you want to regenerate this town you have to support applications of this nature. ”

In an unusual turn of events for a planning meeting, the applicant’s agent was allowed to offer his take on whether providing parking for the site was realistic or not. 

The agent explained that Mandale Group are also looking at another building in Wrexham and that when consent is granted – and subject to the Section 106 agreement – they will be looking to move on with the Henblas development as soon as possible, and would be tackling the outcome of the meeting ‘first thing’ in the morning. 

He added: “One thing I would say is unless highways advice changes, the client won’t change their approach. ”

With regards to the service yard at the rear of the development being used, it was noted that it was being retained for the shops on the ground floor and therefore ruled out for parking use. 

Cllr Jones said: “It is opportunity we want to grab with both hands.  If there is no change regarding parking, I don’t see any point in deferring. ”

In what was a u-turn in the direction of debate from committee members, it was moved that they approve the development – with all but one councillor voting in favour to press ahead with the plans. 

The head of environment and planning at Wrexham Council will now enter into a Section 106 discussion with the applicants about providing affordable housing at the site; or a financial contribution to off-site provision of affordable housing. 

The apartments will be developed subject to the completion of such an agreement. 

Last week Wrexham. com reported that plans to build apartments and two retail units on the former Hippodrome site had also been lodged. 

Flats on Henblas St APPROVED despite issues over no parking – one Cllr said people living there wouldn't mind paying £2-3 a day for town centre overnight parking, would you? Will it push parking to streets outside centre?

— Wrexham. com (@wrexham) November 5, 2018

Flats on Henblas St APPROVED despite issues over no parking – one Cllr said people living there wouldn't mind paying £2-3 a day for town centre overnight parking, would you? Will it push parking to streets outside centre?

— Wrexham. com (@wrexham) November 5, 2018

Top pic: Henblas St earlier today. 

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