The House of Fraser department store on Victoria Street is likely to close next summer as plans to redevelop the building into offices is likely to be approved.
A planning application to demolish the building was filed last year by its owners, and a report for Westminster Council, due to be debated on Tuesday, is recommending approval.
The store opened originally as the Army & Navy Co-operative Society, which was founded in 1871, but quickly outgrew its original site and in 1876 bought a store on the location of the current department store. By 1881 they had bought the entire block, and in 1922 rebuilt the site as a single store.
In 1973 the store was bought by House of Fraser, and they redeveloped the site into the current building. Although the ground floor is lined with shop windows and entrances, the building manages to seem rather fortress-like above, and while not entirely unappealing, it’s forbidding, and certainly needed a refurbishment.
The Army and Navy brand was dropped in 2005 in favour of House of Fraser.
There are also upper levels, the brown clad cluster of offices that sit above the store and seem more of an afterthought than part of the original design.
Rather than refurbishment, the site owners, BentallGreenOak, have decided to go for demolition, as they argue that the layout of the floors makes it difficult to repurpose the building for modern usage requirements.
One advantage of the new building is that the pavement will be widened by recessing the replacement ground floor shops deeper under the upper floors, and there will be a large open “square” running under the centre of the building giving north/south access for the first time.
The existing covered walkway will be retained as a concept, although with the ceiling raised so it’s a little less forbidding, if also then less likely to protect from the rain.
The upper floors are fairly generic office slabs, with stepped back terraces that will be planted and open to the office staff. As is increasingly popular with new offices, substantial cycle racks will be included in the basement, along with showers and lockers. Slightly unusual is that the cycle access is not hidden in a rear service delivery door, but will be a bit of a focal point of the public space in the middle of the building.
The main objections to the scheme stem from the more bulky size of the replacement building, and the impacts on neighbouring buildings.
The planning officer report which has been submitted to the Councillors is recommending the development goes ahead, with some caveats. Some provision of low-cost office space and access to a community space for local schools, but also a requirement that the open square space on the ground floor comes with an agreement to ensure public access. There is a suggestion in the planning application that it could be closed at times.
The report states that while “the proposal will impact on the amenity of neighbouring residents and harm will be caused in terms of design, townscape and heritage impacts, it is considered that while finely balanced the benefits of the scheme outweigh the level of harm identified.”
According to the planning report, House of Fraser is currently not paying rent on the site — presumably as a result of the lockdown. The next break clause in the retail lease comes up in 2022, which aligns with the lease breaks and expires in the offices as well.
Westminster Council is due to decide on the application tomorrow evening, but it looks very likely that House of Fraser will be leaving Victoria Street some 150 years after the original store opened.