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Snail farm claims over former BHS store in Preston city centre

Posted on - 16th February, 2024 - 9:43pm | Author - | Posted in - Politics, Preston City Centre, Preston Council, Preston News, Redevelopment
Artwork will feature on the hoardings outside BHS. Pic Enjoy the Show Garry Cook
The former BHS store has been used for art and photo exhibitions, but there’s suggestions behind the shutters a very different use has been taking place Pic Enjoy the Show Garry Cook

A former British Homes Stores (BHS) building standing empty in Preston city centre has sparked a council investigation into claims it’s being used as a snail farm.

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The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) can reveal Preston City Council is looking into the bizarre suggestion about slimy goings-on behind the shutters of the prime retail premises on Fishergate.

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The unit has stood empty since the much-loved department store chain collapsed in 2016, with the Preston branch being amongst the first of more than 160 to close its doors that summer.

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Two years later, planning permission was granted to convert the first floor – previously home to the BHS restaurant – into a 400-seat Spoon World Buffet, but the eatery never materialised.

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Local speculation about what might fill the huge space seems to have given way to resignation that the building seems destined to remain a blight at the heart of Preston’s main shopping street. But now the city council is probing whether the property has secretly been a breeding ground for edible snails.

Such a set-up would require planning permission to change the use classification of the premises from retail to agriculture – and no such application has been registered with the local authority, it says.

The former BHS store in Fishergate remains boarded up since closing in 2016 Pic: Blog Preston

The LDRS has been told that the address has benefited from a three-month reduction in its business rates on two separate occasions in the last three years – triggered by periods of previous occupation. However, it is unclear what retail activity, if any, would have taken place at the site during that period – with the shop front seemingly having remained boarded up throughout.

According to the Land Registry, the prestigious building was valued at £6.125m as of December 2022.

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A town hall spokesperson said: “The city council has not granted planning permission for a snail farm at the former BHS store on Fishergate. Officers are aware of the alleged unauthorised use and are investigating the matter.”

On the subject of business rates relief, the spokesperson added: “By placing boxes of snails in a property, a company can claim its use is for agricultural purposes, like a farm, and therefore exempt from paying business rates.

“However, it is unlikely that the Valuation Office Agency would reclassify the premises and a number of cases have established this precedent.

“When a property becomes empty after being occupied for six weeks, it can benefit from a three-month business rates relief.

“During the last three-year period, this particular property has benefited from two periods of three-month business rates empty relief following periods of occupation of the premises.”

The LDRS attempted to contact the company listed by the Land Registry as the freehold owner of the building.

Since April 2008, a 100 percent business rate charge applies to most commercial premises that have been empty for at least three months – or at least six months in the case of industrial and warehouse properties – in an attempt to bring such facilities back into use.

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