THE future of one of the oldest department stores in south Essex has been safeguarded after it was listed as an architectural gem.

Havens, in Hamlet Court Road, Westcliff, has been awarded Grade II listing after the Milton Conservation Society successfully applied to Historic England.

Being earmarked as a building of special architectural interest means the shop will be preserved, with restrictions placed on how its interior and exterior are renovated.

The striking building was constructed by the Havens family in 1935, who continue to run it to this day,

Nigel Havens, managing director of the department store, said he was “delighted” the building has been recognised as a heritage gem- but admitted he is cautious about the impact the Grade II listing will have on the business.

He said: “At the moment I don’t know what the implications are of being listed. “It’s a beautiful building. One can’t question that, but internally we are having to make arrangements for our online business. Hopefully there is no impact on that happening.

“The society are idealists who have no ideas what changes retailers have had to make. Our whole top floor was once a showroom but part of it is now for a website service, and may eventually have to be converted into a warehouse and internet offices.”

Mr Havens admits his family business is changing, with a drop in shop visitors and increase in online shopping.

He said: “More than 60 per cent of John Lewis’s operation is now online. People bank online and read newspapers online. That’s not going to change. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

“It is lovely to have such a wonderful building recognised and there is no way we would change the facade. But if listing impacts on changes that have to be made for us to go forward as a business that will be worrying.

“I’m optimistic that won’t happen but it’s just nice to have the freedom to make any changes you need to make.”

Despite Mr Havens concerns, the society is confident the status will protect “an architecturally important regional building in the tradition of great London department stores such as Selfridges and Heals that is therefore most important in our town”.

Andy Atkinson, vice chairman of the society, said “The society felt that for far too long this building has not been recognised for its historical significance in our town and its importance at the heart of Hamlet Court Road. We applied for Listing and are thrilled that the building is now recognised and protected by the statutory Listing.

“We hope that the listing might be the first step in a wider conservation and heritage led regeneration of the area.”

Listing is usually initiated by local or regional government or by Historic England rather than a local conservation society.

It marks and celebrates a building’s special architectural and historic interest, and also brings it under the protection of the planning system.

Listed buildings can be altered, extended and sometimes even demolished within government planning guidance.