PLANS to turn the first and second floors of former town centre retail premises including the ex-WH Smith's into flats have been approved.

Proposals, submitted by applicant Simon Hamilton, were submitted to the council in August, sought to convert the empty building at 13 to 15 Church Street, St Helens, on the side near to Barclays bank.

Plans requested permission to change the use of the first and second floors to provide nine flats, along with a new front entrance, alterations to the windows on the front elevation and additional windows in the side and rear elevations.

The building is currently split into two retail units. The shop units on the ground floors, the larger one which was previously used by WH Smith, would be retained.

The plans submitted to St Helens Council stated: "The building’s previous owners have made numerous attempts over the years to rent out the shops and maintain their use; however, this has not been successful with both units having been vacant for a number of years".

Plans also sought to convert the smaller unit at 15 Church Street and part of the larger unit at 13 Church Street.

They state that estate agents have "confirmed that in the current economic climate and with the particular problems suffered by high streets across the country, there is some demand for the smaller unit, (number 15), but there is no demand for the larger unit (number 13), which provides almost 1,000 square metres of floor space over two floors".

The application adds: "Agents have obtained some interest in No. 13, but only for part of the unit.

"Therefore the obvious solution is to reduce the size of number 13 and to convert the undesirable portion, namely the first floor into residential flats."

Plans added: "The building has been vacant for many years and the applicant considers that the inward investment to the building, in this area of the town centre, will help to bring this building back into a competitive economic use, whilst providing a type and level of domestic accommodation that is in short supply."

Planning officers at the town hall gave the proposals the nod. The development is one of several proposed residential projects in the town centre which have surfaced in recent months.

The Nico Group recently unveiled its latest project on Barrow Street, called Nicholson Plaza which includes a striking façade with twelve one-bedroom apartments and plans were approved for flats above the former Havana Bar on nearby Ormskirk Street.