PLANS have been unveiled to create student accommodation with 70 bedrooms above a store in the heart of Durham’s conservation area.

Metropolis Land and Property Developments has applied to Durham County Council to create the student digs above the former Marks & Spencer in the city’s Silver Street.

The proposals will include the building of a two-storey extension to the existing roof.

Metropolis bought the building when Marks & Spencer closed the city centre store in a favour of an out-of-town outlet at the Arnison Centre in Pity Me.It was occupied by M&Co, which went into administration, and is currently home to the Yorkshire Trading Company.

The design team of Napper Architects was commissioned to undertake the conversion of the upper floors, so the ground floor retail can operate separately.

At the pre-application stage the team was still investigating whether the first floor retail space could be developed for another tenant or be combined with the ground floor as a single unit.

But over 12 months no interest in the upper floor was found and the decision made to use it as part of the student accommodation. It will be used as a reception area and shared communal facilities, with further apartment clusters.

An existing exit onto Silver Street will be remodelled to provide dedicated access to the student accommodation above, with the second floor, which originally provided offices and staff accommodation, converted to student accommodation.

The proposals include an extension above to provide a third and fourth floor of supplementary student bedrooms.

The building was constructed in 1937, with extensions added in the 1950s and 1970s. Although in a conservation area, it is not listed.

Sarah Dyer, a heritage consultant, said that while the proposal will be viewed in the context of the Durham Castle and Cathedral World Heritage Site, it would not affect its significance, because it will be a small change to the existing townscape of Durham.

She said: “It is considered that the submitted design and its proposed use will contribute positively to the historic environment by being redeveloped as a more attractive proposition for a potential occupier and through the use of the floors above which will in turn bring activity that will help support the local economy.”