The owning company of the shopping centre Hammerson have plans to divide up The Oracle’s two biggest stores to provide ‘greater flexibility for potential occupants.
The changes involve dividing up the two department stores, House of Fraser and the former Next Beauty & Home into three units each.
The project is set to go ahead as Reading Borough Council planning officer Jonathan Markell has recommended it for approval.
He sympathised with arguments from Hammerson’s planning agents Turley, who stated that shopping habits are moving away from a focus on department stores.
Furthermore, they argued the extended closure of shops can lead to “a downward spiral of decline and lack of confidence in the centre.”
Therefore, Hammerson wants to divide up the department stores to provide more flexibility for future occupants, which include retail, restaurant businesses, as well as gym groups and even medical practitioners.
In order for the department stores to be divided, Hammerson is seeking the removal of a planning condition dating back to Oracle’s approval in 1997 stating that the department stores cannot be divided.
Mr Markwell judged that this condition ‘inhibits a flexible approach’ to attract future occupants of the shopping centre and is “detrimental to the vitality and viability of the centre by severely limiting the successful reoccupation of the department stores.”
Both department stores stretch across three levels, with House of Fraser having a total of 12,188sqm of floorspace and the former Next Beauty & Home having 11,202sqm of floorspace.
Hammerson has applied for a new condition that would limit department store use to a minimum of 1,000 sqm.
The plan for the department store space emerged this summer, prior to the closure of Next Beauty & Home on Saturday, August 12.
It’s speculated that House of Fraser will either downsize or close altogether.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked the department store owners the Fraser Group what will happen in July but has not received a response.
If approved, the six units created could serve a mix of uses.
The units could be occupied by retail, restaurant and cafe businesses, and could even be used as a gym, indoor sports hall or a medical or health centre.
However, use as a go-kart rink, ice rink, swimming pool or shooting sports such as airsoft or paintball has been ruled out.
No official objections to the plan have been received by members of the public.
The scheme is set to be decided at a Reading Borough Council planning applications committee meeting on Wednesday, September 6.
You can view the application in detail by typing reference 230682 into the council’s planning portal.