Salvation Army submit new shop plans in St Helens

The former Gioco play centre in Fingerpost
The former Gioco play centre in Fingerpost

Fresh proposals to convert a former play centre into a Salvation Army donation centre and charity shop have been submitted.

A planning application seeking to change the use of the former Gioco play centre on Ardwick Street in Fingerpost was submitted in September.

The plans, which were submitted by Martin Way, acquisitions surveyor at Salvation Army Trading Company, were later withdrawn.

A new planning application for the site has now been submitted by Mr Way, and says it is still the charity’s intention to operate the property as a donation centre, incorporating a retail charity shop.

“It is anticipated that the majority of the retail sales area will be given over to the sale of furniture and other larger items including donated bicycles,” the application says.

A cover letter included with the application also reveals why the previous plans were withdrawn.

During discussions with St Helens Council’s planning department, the applicant was told the application fell outside the defined town centre boundaries, following a redrawing of the local shopping centre boundaries.

Subsequently, the applicant was told it would need to carry out a sequential assessment and draw up an impact statement, which have been submitted as part of the new application.

The sequential assessment reveals that several sites in the Fingerpost shopping centre and St Helens town centre had been considered but deemed not viable.

One of the sites considered was the former Argos store on St Helens high street.

The sequential assessment says there are several “significant drawbacks” to the building, including the £125,000 rent quoted, and lack of parking to allow donations to be dropped off.

Another available site that was ruled out is the unit currently occupied by Poundland in Church Square Shopping Centre.

The assessment says there are “prohibitive occupational property costs”, including an annual service charge of £125,000.

It adds that the Church Square Shopping Centre premises would also fall short on the same key requirements as the former Argos unit.

Another location considered was Ravenhead Retail Park.

The assessment says that while there are several appropriate units at Ravenhead, the rents quoted are “substantially above” what the applicant could pay to make a donation centre viable.

In conclusion, the assessment says: “The applicant carried out a detailed physical and desktop search of both the town centre and Fingerpost Local Shopping Centre for this assessment.

“Whilst there are numerous vacant shop and leisure units in the areas searched, none are viable for the format proposed by the applicant, be it on grounds of size, visibility, accessibility, cost or in some instances a combination of more than one of these.”

The impact assessment submitted with the new plans says the applicant believes the impact of the proposed venture will be “minimal”.

“In the case of Fingerpost Local Centre, most of the applicant’s retail space will be for the sale of goods that neither charity shop currently at Fingerpost Local Centre actually sells,” the impact assessment says.

“With regard to St Helens town centre, it is possible there will be some trade diversion from the two charity shops that sell bulky goods but depending on how they currently source their supply of larger items, this diversion may prove to be minimal to negligible.”

The planning application has been validated by St Helens Council and is awaiting decision.