BOSWELLS department store will be transformed into a luxury hotel, as a developer with dreams for the Oxford institution has been given the backing of city planning chiefs.

The Reef Group, a property development company, has been given planning permission for its proposals to make the historic department store, which closed after the first lockdown last year, into a four-star boutique hotel.

Oxford City Council’s west area planning committee rubber stamped the plans for the hotel, dubbed ‘The Store’ when it met yesterday afternoon.

ALSO READ: Debenhams Oxford will not reopen after lockdown

One councillor praising the plans as ‘exactly the sort of development we need to keep our city centre alive’, as the hotel could boost tourist spending in central Oxford.

Oxford Mail: Boswells in Cornmarket before it closed Boswells in Cornmarket before it closed

Boswells before it closed

The plans for Boswells will see the building filled with 101 hotel rooms, alongside a basement gym, a restaurant and bar on the ground floor which will be open to walk-in customers, and a new rooftop terrace.

Reef Group director Will Rohleder told the planning committeee the new rooftop terrace would ‘allow guests to enjoy Oxford’s landmarks and open up views to the historic skyline, including the Sheldonian Theatre and Northgate Tower’.

Committee member Liz Wade raised concerns about the height of the new fifth floor extension of the building, where the rooftop terrace will be built, and a proposed new elevator shaft, because they are both taller than Carfax Tower.

ALSO READ: ITV confirms filming schedule for Inspector Morse spin-off Endeavour series eight

In central Oxford, all buildings have to be ‘limited in bulk’ if they exceed the height of the 18.2m-tall historic tower, because of a longstanding planning rule known as the Carfax Datum.

A council report said the new features would not detract from ‘key views’ of Oxford at either the ground level or the roof.

Boswells will also be home to a co-working area, a kind of hot desk office space which is predicted to see a growth after the pandemic ends because of the increase in the number of people home working.

Oxford Mail: Design drawings of the hotel at Boswells. Picture: Reef GroupDesign drawings of the hotel at Boswells. Picture: Reef Group

Picture: The Reef Group

The inside of the building will be designed to fit with the Art Deco-era style of the department store building, and outdoor features like the Boswells signs at entrances on both Broad Street and Cornmarket Street will be kept.

Committee member Louise Upton said the plans were ‘exactly the sort of development we need to keep our city centre alive’.

She added: “It should improve our average time a tourist spends in the city centre.”

ALSO READ: Passengers at Heathrow queue as travel corridors scrapped

Overnight visitors to Oxford on average spend more money in the city than day trippers.

Oxford City Council owns the freehold of 1-5 Broad Street, and the Reef Group has negotiated to take over the lease from Boswells.

It is also taking over Boswells building on Cornmarket Street, which is linked to the Broad Street buildings internally.

Oxford Mail: Boswells - The StoreBoswells - The Store

Boswells entrance on Broad Street

Reef and the council entered into an agreement over plans for the Hotel at a private meeting in December.

Though the outcome of the agreement was discussed behind closed doors, a report to the council said it only earned £1,950 a year leasing the building to Boswells, and deputy council leader Ed Turner hinted in public there was room to renegotiate this.

Boswell and Co started trading in Oxford in 1738.

The store's management announced its doors would close forever in November last year because of adverse trading conditions.

Approximately 70 members of staff were made redundant, and Boswells finally closed in March this year with the first coronavirus lockdown.