Lee-on-the-Solent traders in battle over plans to turn shops into homes

Store manager Sophie Thomas and 'The News Local Hero' Ben Brown, 34, from Cowplain along with the 60 strong team at the new store ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (180321-1299)

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SHOPKEEPERS are fighting plans to turn two empty shops into apartments.

The building is part of a small shopping parade in Portsmouth Road, Lee-on-the-Solent.

A construction firm has submitted plans to Gosport Borough Council, seeking a change of use from shops to residential apartments.

But shopkeepers and people living nearby have objected, saying it would be a loss to the area.

Shirley Knowles, who owns the Top Knot hair salon in Portsmouth Road, has started a petition against the plans.

She says about 40 business owners and residents have signed the letter of objection.

Mrs Knowles said: ‘We’re not being obstructive but we think they need to stay as shops.

‘It has always been a shopping parade and that’s what it should stay.

‘A lot of residents in this area are older and they can’t get down even to Lee for shopping.

‘We desperately need a little community shop.

‘It’s funny because there was such opposition to the Tesco store being built in Lee but we would have loved to have it here.

‘We hope the council will support us when it goes before them.’

According to the town’s planning policy, the area is mainly to be used for shopping.

But in a letter of justification to the council’s planning department, agents Pickup Town Planning said two property agents have struggled finding tenants for the shops for the past three years.

The statement said: ‘The two ground-floor retail units have stood vacant ever since they were constructed.

‘For three years now these vacant units have not served the community at all.

‘They have not contributed to the shopping function of the area.

‘It is considered by the applicant that the empty units have actually had a counterproductive impact.

‘A change of use would ensure the units were in use and occupied.’

The two estate agents who have been trying to find tenants for the shops say they have given viewings but no-one has wanted to lease them because of their location.

Gosport Borough Council is still accepting comments on the proposals for a change of use.

The plans will then go before the council’s planning board at a later date.

They include proposals for changes to the windows at the front of the building and bin and cycle storage areas.