DEVELOPERS are planning to breathe new life into Southend High Street by creating 60 new flats, mostly in empty offices above shops.

The conversion of the imposing former Brightwell’s department store, opposite the Royals Shopping Centre, is already under way and expected to to be finished in the spring or summer of next year.

The flats development, to be known as the Drapery, will feature plush one and two-bedroom homes, with three penthouses and a rooftop terrace.

The most expensive flats are expected to be offered for more than £300,000.

The development is one of 11 proposed for buildings in the High Street, with the new residents expected to give traders there a welcome boost.

Mike Gray, managing director of estate agent Dedman Gray, which is marketing the Drapery flats, said: “It has been proven in other cities where a range of accommodation has been available in town centres that they are popular places to live.

“It will add to the night-time economy in this town. I’m hearing it goes dead after 6pm, but if you have people living here, it will carry on.

“This is all part of the regeneration of the High Street and we expect to have completion around spring or summer 2016.”

The British Heart Foundation, which normally runs a charity shop on the building’s ground floor has moved out while the conversion work goes ahead. However, Ruth Sheed, the charity’s area manager, said the charity planned to re-open though she wasn’t sure when this might be.

While it is closed, supporters are being asked to take items for sale to the foundation’s Basildon town centre shop instead.

The large space above the former Orange store, on the corner of Clifftown Road, also has planning permission to be turned into a home. It is to be converted into a five-bedroom house.

The former Boots store, on the corner of Queens Road, is to be turned into a restaurant, with six flats above.

Southend Council leader Ron Woodley said the town centre could have as many as 4,000 extra people living in it within a decade if all the plans were to come to fruition.

He said: “Having that number of people in there will add to the viability of the High Street.

“The town has become attractive to young Londoners, who, for the price of a deposit in London, can buy a whole property here.

“The amount of money you can save having a good-quality home here instead of London is massive.”

Other projects in hand:

69 HIGH STREET The first and second floors of 69 High Street, above the Gadget Store, will be turned into four flats.

195-197 HIGH STREET Moon A Ltd plans to convert the top of the former Boots shop into six flats, while the shop below will become a restaurant.

99 HIGH STREET North London Commercial is to covert the top of the former Orange store, now a temporary Christmas shop, into a house for multiple occupation, with bedrooms on two floors and a communal kitchen.

‘No ground-floor homes’

A COUNCILLOR whose ward includes the town centre has welcomed plans for homes in the High Street.

Labour’s Milton ward member Julian Ware-Lane said he welcomed the principle of developers looking to use empty office space on the first and second floors of buildings.

However, he believes converting the shops themselves into homes should not be allowed.

He said: “It has happened down in Hamlet Court Road in Westcliff, where shops have been converted into flats, but Southend High Street is the main High Street and I’d be concerned if the character of it was changed.

“We need to make sure the amenities are there, as well as parking, but as a general principle I’m in agreement with conversions on the first and second floors.

“I wouldn’t want to see old office space empty forever.”