The former Blockbuster video rental store in Widnes town centre could be turned into a controversial HMO shared accommodation scheme.

Salisbury Property Partners has submitted an application for the partial change of use of the building on Salisbury Street, into a 12-room house in multiple occupation (HMO).

HMOs have separate bedrooms but may have shared facilities such as kitchens and bathrooms. They have proven highly contentious in the past – with one Halton planning chief having previously likened them to ‘Victorian slums’.

But backers say they are a vital part of any local housing mix, providing a foot on the ladder for people struggling with rising rents and house prices.

Runcorn and Widnes World: CGI of the top floor of the proposed HMO. Image from planning docs by Planning Dimensions ltdCGI of the top floor of the proposed HMO. Image from planning docs by Planning Dimensions ltd (Image: Planning Dimensions LTD)

The application would see the existing 633 sq m, two-storey building turned into a residential complex with 12 en-suite rooms. The ground floor would be retained for ‘Class E’ use, a planning term which means it could be used for  range of things such as shops, offices or cafes.  There would also be four parking bays with drop kerbs. The site would also feature a utility and drying room, and a communal kitchen.

The units had originally been occupied by video and game rental giant Blockbuster which went into administration in 2013. The site has subsequently been occupied by other businesses. 

A planning statement issues in support of the application claimed the site had ‘suffered continued periods of vacancy’ and struggled in the economic climate to secure long term leases for the entire building.

It added: “HMOs provide a flexible and affordable option for housing for many who may have limited options. A variety of residents are known to occupy HMOs including people on low incomes, students, young professionals and those on short term work contracts."

Halton planning bosses have voiced opposition to HMOs in the past, having previously turned one down in Widnes – although that decision was later overturned by the government planning inspectorate on appeal. The authority is also actively considering applying for new powers to be able to oppose new HMOs.

No date has yet been set for a decision.