It’s sat neglected an empty for more than three years but Stratford’s former BHS building is now set to become an upmarket 170-bed hotel.
While the project is set to breathe new life into the building, concerns have been raised about the impact such an influx of new hotel rooms could have on Stratford’s hospitality industry.
Planning permission for the hotel has now been granted, with a gym, restaurant and bar included within the blueprints, as well as a space for a separate independent restaurant.
The development is expected to be operated as an Ark hotel, part of the Bespoke Hotels group.
The news will come as a double-edged sword for some, no doubt happy that the neglected building is being brought back into use, but perhaps disappointed that a hotel is the project of choice.
The building certainly appears to have deteriorated since department store BHS closed in 2016, with some complaining about the untidy state of the site, littered with weeds and rubbish.
One of those with reservations about the building becoming a hotel is Joe Baconnet, director of Stratforward BID, who fears this project along with two other large hotels potentially being built in the town, may well affect existing hoteliers badly.
Demolition work at Stratford’s former Picturehouse cinema is due to begin any day, paving the way for a new Travelodge Hotel at the site, while a decision on a new 80-bed hotel plan above Debenhams is expected later this month.
Mr Baconnet said: “I know a number of hoteliers are very, very nervous about what this is going to do to do to their profitability. With two other hotels getting planning permission and a third going through the planning process at the moment, this will likely have an impact on room rates. I don’t suspect hotels will see much profit.
“I’m surprised the application got through as a 170-bed hotel, that’s a lot of rooms to get onto that site. This building has sat empty for far too long but we did attempt to get other types of occupiers interested in the building, the demand for office space in Stratford would have taken up a lot of the space in that building.
“We will have to wait and see how quickly they move on this, that site is now more valuable with planning permission so who knows what will happen.
“If this had been the only new hotel proposed in Stratford, than I would be more positive about it, but the market will now inevitably be oversupplied.”
Mr Baconnet speculated that the project may be operated as a pod-style hotel, given the number of beds that had been granted permission.
Former Stratford mayor Cyril Bennis, who has previously called for the building to be torn down, said: “That building has been a disaster from day one and now it’s a derelict eyesore, however I am pleased that something is happening to it now. Market forces will dictate whether it will work as a hotel, it’s where investors are choosing to put their money at the moment, but I would just urge the owners to sharpen the place up a bit.”
Giving his view on the proposal, Cllr Tony Jefferson, leader of Stratford District Council, said: “I think it’s a very good solution to a site that if it wasn’t developed, would rapidly deteriorate further. It’s going to add vitality to that part of the town.”
The site was on track to be turned into a complex of restaurants and retailers after previous owners Hermes Investments secured planning permission – but a change of ownership has seen a drastic rethink.
In August the Herald exclusively revealed that the building had been sold and that investors were being sought for the new hotel plan.
At that time a document seen by the Herald revealed that the hotel could potentially open in 2021.
The Herald approached Bespoke Hotels and Colliers international, which is attracting investors to the scheme, for comment, with a spokesperson for the project saying: “We are delighted to have secured planning consent for the former BHS unit in Stratford. We are now working through the planning conditions associated with the application, as well as appointing a contractor for the works.
“We hope to share further details on timings when these elements have concluded.”