Work to revitalise the crumbling Co-op building in Huddersfield town centre can now begin after councillors gave a controversial student flats plan the green light.
The historic premises on New Street, which have been empty for 14 years, can finally be revamped.
Councillors wrestled with the decision amid questions over whether more student flats were needed and concerns about the design.
But amid pressure to regenerate the dilapidated council-owned eyesore, they agreed to Huddersfield based SKA Developments’ plans.
Zeb Pervaiz, a director of the firm, said he was “absolutely delighted” to get the go-ahead.
Mr Pervaiz told the Examiner he hoped to send contractors in within months to start stripping out the interior.
The design agreed by planners will see three extra floors put on top of the refurbished 1930s built extension to the adjacent Victorian Co-op building, creating a high end 140 bed student accommodation called Renaissance Works.
The extension has been slightly tweaked to feature bronze cladding and it is now set back from the edge of the building so as to not block views of the clock tower.
The Examiner understands that SKA will be one of the first beneficiaries of Kirklees Council’s property investment fund, which loans cash to developers to kick-start regeneration projects or developments that will boost Kirklees’ fortunes.
The council has been keen to get the building off its books after paying millions for it shortly before the economic crash of 2008.
It has been trying to sell it or get a developer interested for almost a decade.
At the planning meeting, councillors were told that no other developer had been interested in the site as there was not enough of a profit margin.
David Storrie, a town planner acting for SKA, said: “No standard developer can come in here and make this scheme, or any scheme, viable – even with the extra three floors.
“It’s marginal, and way below industry standards in terms of profit.
“The only reason it’s possible for my clients is because they’re an established Huddersfield developer and can take a longer term view.”
Clr Carole Pattison said she wondered if Huddersfield was at “saturation point” in terms of student flats.
She was told it would be possible to convert the student flats into “high end apartments” at a later date if the student rental market didn’t work out.
Backing the plan, she commented: “This building is in desperate need of renovation.
“We can’t let such an opportunity slip through our hands, it’s so badly needed.”
Clr Donald Firth said two major hotel firms had been approached but both had declined to take it on.
He said it was good that something would now happen but said he felt new shops could have been created on the ground floor.
“That end of town has very few people going to it,” he commented.
“Wouldn’t it have been good to include the ground floor for retail?”
A council planning officer told Clr Firth that SKA had considered creating retail space but decided it was not viable.
Chair of the committee, Clr Steve Hall, said the application was the most difficult planning decision he’d ever had to make.
He said: “You can take the argument about regeneration because, let’s face it, it needs it.
“The plan might not necessarily suit everybody but we’re trying to do something with it.”
The application was approved by five votes for, to one against.
Last November, the Examiner was given a personal tour of the abandoned building, latterly the Heaven and Hell nightclub, by Mr Pervaiz.
The exclusive look around revealed how thieves had ransacked the premises ripping wiring from the walls, floors and ceiling – even stealing some toilets and sinks.
Following the decision to allow his scheme, Mr Pervaiz commented: “For too long this key site in Huddersfield town centre has stood vacant, so it gives me real pride that today we have taken a major step towards bringing the building back into beneficial use.
“Over the previous months we’ve worked very closely with Kirklees Council to develop a viable but eye-catching scheme, and I’m thrilled that our approach of working closely with the council has led to today’s decision.
“SKA Developments has a track record of delivering high-quality projects in Huddersfield, including our fantastic Standard House scheme.
“We now look forward to continuing to work closely with the council to finalise the details of these plans, and we are targeting a start-on-site for Renaissance Works in the coming months, which will kick off with a strip out of the existing building.”