AMBITIOUS plans to turn Sunderland’s empty Joplings store into a hotel are still on course.
Planning permission to transform the upper floors of the John Street building was granted in March 2009 but the plans have been on hold after the closure of the store more than a year ago.
However, Altrincham-based developer Merepark Project Management has now applied to Sunderland City Council bosses to extend the existing permission – and spokesman Ian Jones confirmed the scheme was still active.
“We are in the process of drawing up a new planning application and we have just asked for an extension of the existing permission in the meantime,” he said.
“We are actively looking at the building with a view to developing a hotel.”
Hotel chain Hilton was on board for the original plan, which would have seen Joplings continue to trade on the basement, ground floor and first floors – with the upper three storeys converted.
Although concerns were raised over hotel parking and taxi access to the site, the plans were welcomed by councillors who recognised the need for more hotel accommodation in the city centre.
That need still exists and will be only partially addressed by the construction of a new 82-room Travelodge next to the Riverside leisure quarter in High Street West.
Businesses and civic leaders say Sunderland is missing out as shows at the Sunderland Empire and events such as the Stadium of Light concerts and Sunderland airshow pull hundreds of thousands of visitors into the city who are then forced to look to the likes of Gateshead and Newcastle for accommodation.
A number of planning applications have been approved for hotels approved in recent years, but none has been built.
Coun Phil Tye, chairman of the council’s Planning and Highways committee, said: “Once we’ve got one, they’ll all start pouring in.”