Business hub plans passed for iconic Stafford building

An historic Stafford building that has served as the town’s court and library has been given the green light to start a new chapter.

The paved area surrounding Market Square in Stafford. Photo: Leah Cassady
The paved area surrounding Market Square in Stafford. Photo: Leah Cassady

The Grade II Listed Shire Hall, in Market Square, dates back to the 1790s and is currently vacant.

But plans are afoot to get it back to business, with the creation of a hub for new enterprises in the eastern part of the building.

Last year the Government awarded £1.6 million from its Getting Building Fund towards the Shire Hall scheme, which has been put forward by building's owner, Staffordshire County Council.

And this month Stafford Borough Council granted permission for the part of the building which previously housed the town’s main library to be converted into a business hub, including meeting rooms, break out areas, kitchen facilities and new toilets across three floors. There will also be 21 “incubation units” for business start-ups.

A borough council planning officers’ report said: “The works to the listed building... are acceptable given that they will contribute to the preservation viability and long term sustainability of a Grade II* listed building that has been empty for the past four years.

“It will also contribute to the wider regeneration of this part of Stafford Conservation Area.”

Philip White, Staffordshire County Council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for economy and skills, welcomed the planning permission.

He said: “It’s great news that we now have the approval to move ahead and get going with this exciting project for the Shire Hall and Stafford’s wider regeneration.

“This is an iconic building in the heart of the county town and so it is important that we bring it back into productive use. We have carefully considered how the Shire Hall can be used and our evidence and research has shown there is a need for provision in the town for small businesses. The assembly hall will also be available for a range of functions.

“A thriving enterprise hub in the Shire Hall will benefit the wider town centre economy, and recent investment and planned regeneration undoubtedly make Stafford an attractive place to work and live. How we re-purpose our town centres will be critical as we move out of the pandemic period.

“We will be working closely with colleagues at Stafford Borough Council and the LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) throughout this year as we prepare for the hub’s opening in early 2022.”

The Shire Hall project is one of a number of regeneration schemes taking place in Stafford town centre.

Market Square is set to be transformed as part of the borough council’s Future High Streets project, which was awarded more than £14.3m from the Government, while vacant sites in the Eastgate Street area including the former magistrates court are to be regenerated by the county council.

A planning statement submitted as part of the Shire Hall application said: “The county council remains the proud owner of the site, but the building operates at a substantial financial loss to the authority, with the building in a state of disrepair and in need of investment.

“There are ambitions for the older part of Stafford town to undergo a regeneration, with significant investment coming in, which will see it become more mixed in use, including the conversion of retail to residential land use. There is a need and opportunity for spaces to provide for work and leisure uses in the town centre to capitalise on this shift away from retail.

“Shire Hall’s location at the centre of the old town, on Market Square, means that it is well positioned to do this either as office and event space. The design ambition for the business hub at Shire Hall is to create flexible workspace to meet the needs and demands of modern business operations.”

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