The massive Gaolgate Street premises has been vacant since M&S moved into a new unit at the Riverside Shopping Centre in 2016.
In 2018 it was suggested that the empty store could be converted into smaller units to encourage new businesses to move in.
But now an application has been put forward by Bloxwind Ltd for partial demolition and redevelopment of the site, to provide living and retail space.
If the plans are approved by Stafford Borough Council a three-storey building could be sited behind the existing two-storey façade, providing a retail unit and storage uses on the ground floor and 17 flats above.
A detached four-storey building containing 67 apartments is also proposed for the site, along with a 25-space car park and alterations to the existing access from Salter Street.
A planning statement submitted as part of the application said: “In total, 84 apartments are proposed, split between 47 one-bedroom studios and 37 one-bedroom flats.
“The retained and altered frontage building would include a retail unit on the ground floor, with a net tradeable area measuring around 231sq m. Pedestrian access to the upper floor flats would be from Gaolgate Street through former no 32a. The existing stone façade would be retained.
“The new third storey would be set back around 1m behind the existing stone parapet wall, faced in matching brickwork and set under a predominantly flat roof but with a steep slope on its front and rear elevations, covered by slate tiles to match adjoining roofs.
“It is acknowledged that the occupiers of the proposed apartments would not have access to their own or communal external amenity space within the site. However, in that respect the new units are no different from many town centre developments. Moreover, the site lies within reasonable walking distance of Stafford’s network of multifunctional green spaces, including Victoria Park and other open areas.”
Stafford Borough Council is considering the regeneration of the town centre’s north end as part of its bid for a share of the Government’s Future High Streets Fund. And a number of former retail units in Gaolgate Street have already been converted into other uses.
The old Dorothy Perkins store has been transformed into the Hogarths pub and cocktail bar, while micropub Slaters opened in a unit previously occupied by a charity shop. In January, Stafford Borough Council approved plans for a new 120-bed Ibis Styles hotel at the vacant Hunters Row premises.
The planning statement for the former M&S site application says: “After no interest was shown in acquiring the building for retail use, the site was sold at auction in 2018 and has been vacant since 2016. There is no reasonable prospect of the existing building being reoccupied or the site redeveloped in its entirety for retail purposes,
“The council’s regeneration officers had themselves been helping to market the building for its previous retail use, but with no success. The ‘decline of the high street’ is well documented and is due to a number of factors, which may include lower footfall, increasing business rates and other costs, a shift to online shopping, parking problems and the expansion of out-of-centre shopping developments.
“The application site is not the only retail unit currently vacant in Gaolgate Street, or within the wider town centre shopping area, as a site inspection or review of retail premises to let will confirm. Some of the vacant retail premises are relatively substantial.
“Despite this background, the application proposal would result in the retention of a smaller retail unit facing Gaolgate Street, thereby maintaining an active retail frontage in Stafford’s primary shopping street, while the proposed apartments would increase the amount of attractive residential provision in town centres as well as boosting local housing supply and providing affordable homes.”