Benches and bin stall deal for charity store take-over

A BID to re-open Huntingdon’s former Marks and Spencers store as a charity furniture store is at risk of folding after the potential new tenants complained about the bin and benches outside the shop front.

Speculation that the British Heart Foundation wanted to turn the High Street premises into a new furniture and electrical store has been circulating since last October, but it emerged this week that concerns over the position of two wooden benches and a bin have stopped the charity from signing the lease.

Negotiations are ongoing with Huntingdonshire District Council, which is responsible for town centre street furniture, to see if the benches and bins can be moved.

A charity spokesman confirmed that if their demands weren’t met, they would consider backing out of the deal. The former M&S Food store has been empty since March 2009. It is one of 14 empty units in the town centre.

The spokesman said: “We are going to widen those windows and to have a bench and bin outside it detracts from our shop front. We want shoppers to be able to walk past and have a look at the front of the shop to see what they are selling.

“Moving this street furniture is quite crucial for us. [If it isn’t moved] it would mean the property wouldn’t give us what we want.

“It is not that we do not want people to have that sort of facility [benches and a bin]. We have just got a vision for the property. Those things need to be moved to make our vision happen.”

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The district council would have to pick up the bill for any changes, however. Huntingdon mayor Councillor Alan Mackender-Lawrence said he wanted the seats to remain.

“Seating in the High Street is at a premium. As such any loss of seating would have a detrimental effect to the users of the High Street.”

Katy Sismore, Huntingdon Town Partnership manager said she was keen to see the M&S site re-occupied.

She said HDC executive leader Jason Ablewhite had written to lease-holders Marks and Spencers in July last year and was told the new BHF store would open this spring.

“We have got to welcome people. It is quite a unique furniture and white goods store. It would be good for Huntingdon to get them in and open and trading. If they have got aspirations to put in a new shop front, maybe we can negotiate down to one bench and the bin.

“It is very important that we get somebody in that unit, but we need to know if they are not going to move in because we need to know if those units are re-available.”

An HDC spokesman said: “BHF has requested the removal of two benches and a bin from in front of the store. They say the benches and bin are in the way of the window. We are organising a site visit to discuss what can be done.”

The new store, which would sell suites, sofas, chairs, dining sets, beds and wardrobes plus electrical items, would bring the total of charity stores in the town up to six.