Approval recommended to convert iconic department store into 175-room hotel

George Henry Lee building

Liverpool City Council is recommended to approve a plan to convert one of the city’s most iconic retail units into a 175-room hotel at its planning committee next Tuesday (October 24).

The site was the former home of George Henry Lee, part of the John Lewis Partnership portfolio, until 2008 when it moved to the newly-developed Liverpool One retail centre as one of its flagship sites.

It is now empty, following the departure in 2017 of Liverpool retail business Rapid Hardware.

However, it has been the subject of three failed attempts to convert it into an hotel previously.

In 2013, Birmingham-based Gethar Ventures sought to transform the property, then in 2018 a joint venture firm linked to Rapid Hardware owners, the Doherty family unveiled its own plans alongside investment property company Williamson Holding.

Then, the following year, development company Niboco applied for planning permission to turn the building into a 157-bedroom hotel, restaurant, casino, nightclub and events space.

Liverpool-based Landlab Developments, which was incorporated just over a year ago, is behind the latest proposal, headed by sole director, Victor Alfa, with the purpose of the development of building projects and hotels and similar accommodation.

It is proposed the venture will operate under hotel group Accor’s Mama Shelter brand.

The proposal is to change the use of the building, which comprises 14,233 sq metres of floorspace over nine floors – two basements levels, ground floor and six upper storeys – into a 175-room facility with ancillary functions including ground floor bar, restaurant and basement leisure facilities, fourth floor bedroom extension, with new external terraces at seventh floor level as part of a sky bar/restaurant at sixth floor level.

Access to the hotel reception/lobby would be from the existing Houghton Street entrance, with bar and restaurant entrances onto Basnett Street.

Cllrs Nick Small and Christine Banks support the scheme on the grounds that this is an important building in the city that has been empty for some time and has limited prospect of continuing to have an economic purpose for retail, given the changes to the world of retail and growth of Liverpool One.

Repurposing the building as an hotel will help maintain footfall in the Church Street area, supporting existing retail and leisure uses elsewhere, as well as bringing an important building back into use, they say.

Two letters of objection have been received on behalf of the retailer TK Maxx, in the adjacent building and the owner of the adjacent building, on the grounds of lack of information on the servicing solution for the proposed scheme, claiming it could impact on surrounding occupiers and highway safety, and concerns regarding the construction process and how this will affecting surrounding properties.

However, an individual has submitted a representation of support that this is a “fantastic proposal” and “an excellent opportunity for this beautiful building to be utilised once more”.

The building dates back to 1853 when George Henry Lee and his brother, Henry Boswell Lee opened a Bonnet warehouse on Basnett Street.

The business eventually grew into one of the North’s top department stores.

In 1919, the store was sold to American businessman Harry Gordon Selfridge. Under Selfridge’s management the store was incorporated into the new Selfridge Provincial Stores group, in which it stayed until its collapse in 1940 and subsequent purchase by John Lewis.

The council’s planning notes say: “It is considered that the proposed hotel/leisure use of the site is acceptable in this location.

“The uses will bring the vacant and under-utilised floors of this prominent and important building back into beneficial use and secure its ongoing conservation and maintenance, without any adverse impact on the retail function of the area.

“It will contribute towards a sustainable mix of uses in an accessible location, benefiting the local economy and providing enhanced employment prospects. It will assist in increasing activity in the area, throughout the day and night.”

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