Council Plan to Develop Former M&S in Northampton
Plans to demolish site and build 342 apartments to regenerate Abington Street
Council’s £70m scheme to develop empty M&S and BHS stores in Northampton town centre could take TEN YEARS to finish. The former M&S building in Northampton could be demolished and replaced with homes, shops and cafés by Spring 2025, detailed plans for the town centre show. The building at 41-45 Abington Street has been an eyesore for some time after the store closed in 2018.
In September 2020, Northampton Borough Council finalised the purchase of the building for £1.45 million.
Now they want it demolished to make way for 192 “high quality homes” over small start-up business premises, shops and cafés.
Councillors, local MPs and business owners have come together to form the Northampton Forward Board which is bidding for £37 million from the Government to pay for 12 projects aimed at rejuvenating the town centre – one of which is the plan for the ex-M&S building. The re-purposing of that site would need £5.5 million from those fund as well as £39 million from outside investment or borrowing. £1 million has already been given to Northampton Borough Council from national government to begin work on the removal of asbestos from the building, which will then allow development to start immediately, as long as the funding can be confirmed.
Cllr Jonathon Nunn, leader of Northampton Borough Council, said that buildings like this need to be repurposed because they are “not suitable for modern use”.
“The building’s age means there’s a lot of asbestos, but also that it’s simply not suitable for modern use,” Cllr Nunn said.
“It’s impractical to have such huge retail spaces. Businesses aren’t looking for that anymore. Our proposal is for a residential development, with a mixed use ground floor. But it has to be high quality, we need to make homes that people will be proud to live in.
“We have to be honest, and the high street, especially because of Covid, is never going to be the same as it was. We need to adapt to what businesses need.”
The building has been empty for almost three years, and part of Northampton Forward’s plans are not only to redevelop these areas to promote business and community living, but also to prevent crime and anti-social behaviour often associated with empty buildings. Martin Mason, CEO of shoe firm Tricker’s and a Northampton Forward board member, said that the building is “depressing” to see and that it needs to change.
“It’s quite depressing walking down Abington Street and seeing big buildings like the former M&S one empty, as well as a dozen or so other units not being used,” he said.
“Big retail stores like that are like dinosaurs now. High streets were in decline when the Northampton Forward Board was established in 2019 and covid-19 has just accelerated the inevitable.
“Local people tend to think that it’s just Northampton that is experiencing these struggles, but it’s everywhere.
“That’s why we want to redevelop these places and make them more attractive to small businesses and independent shops. We want Northampton to become one of those places you would go to just for a specific independent shop.”
Concerns have arisen around the fact that the proposed development of the former M&S building will include high quality apartments, and there are worries that these will price out local people and gentrify the area.
“I would not want any local people to think that we are in any way gentrifying the area,” Cllr Nunn said.
Northampton is in serious need of updating. Buildings with a combination of luxury residences, combined with offices, smaller shops and smart cafes, could see the historical town burst in to life.