WHAT was once one of Pontypool’s grandest shops – but which has fallen into disrepair and even used as a cannabis farm – is set to be brought back to life. 

The “eyesore” grade II listed former Co-operative department store in Commercial Street, which was built in the art deco style in the 1938, before becoming a branch of the discount chain Hyper Value in the 1980s, is set to be divided into new retail units at street level and its upper floors converted to a clothing factory. 

Its most recent official use was as a furniture store but it has been vacant for a number of years, with the building in the Pontypool conservation area, officially considered “at risk”. 

According to the Buildings at Risk Register: “The condition of the building may decline quickly if action is not taken, multiple elements need attention.” 

Free Press Series: This is how the building looked when previous development plans were put forward in 2014.

Restoration plans, which were submitted to Torfaen council in March last year by businessman Waseem Mohammed, will form part of the £9.3 million Pontypool Levelling Up project which is using £7.6m from the UK Government to restore the derelict nearby St James’ Church and transform the Hanbury Road public toilets into a restaurant. Restoration of the former shop is also being supported by grant funding. 

Council planners have now approved the application for a change of use of the upper floors and to renovate the building, and have advised Welsh historic buildings body Cadw it should approve the listed building application. 

A report by council planning officer Simon Prichard stated: “The building is in a poor condition and ‘at risk’ which currently makes no positive contribution to and actually detracts from the character of the area. Therefore, these proposals offer an opportunity to enhance both the building itself and the town centre.” 

His report said bringing the building back into use would benefit the town centre and noted: “The building has been vacant for a number of years, has fallen into a state of disrepair and is currently an eyesore within the town.” 

Glass boxes in the pavement outside the shop, which provide light to the basement, will also be restored with a number currently broken or filled with cement. 

The glazed paving and its surrounding intricate mosaic tiling and metal framing is considered an important part of the listing and is original. 

The late 20th century shop front is set to be replaced with a replica of the original which will be based on old photographs and the ground floor will be split into four units, each with their own entrance, and planning conditions will determine the frames and windows that are used. 

A space for a bat roost will be retained in a stairwell with the building home to “a sizeable and locally important maternity roost of lesser horseshoe bats”. 

Cadw listed the Portland Stone building, that was purpose built for the Co-op, and  in 1996 described it as “an unusually well designed and intact example of an inter-war Co-operative store. It has group value with other listed buildings in the main shopping street of Pontypool.” 

The main architectural feature of the building is a balcony flanked by two Egyptian style pillars with a capital carving based on the papyrus plant, with the coat of arms of the Co Op movement above it. 

Free Press Series: A close up of the Egyptian columns on the balcony and, right, the stairs between the first and second floors which are thought to date back to 1938 and are one of the few features that give an indication of the original interior.A close up of the Egyptian columns on the balcony and, right, the stairs between the first and second floors which are thought to date back to 1938 and are one of the few features that give an indication of the original interior. (Image: Torfaen County Borough Council planning file.)

A heritage impact report, submitted with the application, stated the store’s fortunes declined as the Co-op lost out to more fashionable retailers such as Marks and Spencers and BHS, from the 1960s, and a downturn in Pontypool’s fortunes. 

The report read: “This combined with a general downturn in the economic prosperity of the town meant that the store closed in the early 1980’s.  

“Although the store was originally occupied by a discount retailer known as “Hypervalue”, this model also failed to be sustainable and the store was closed. Since then, the ground floor has been used by a number of discount furniture sales whilst the basement and upper floors have been used to grow cannabis plants hydroponically. During this period few modifications have been made to the building, but its condition has deteriorated significantly.” 

In November 2010 Gwent Police recovered around 300 cannabis plants and hydroponics equipment from the building, which had last been used as the Simply Exquisite Furniture store. The building had already been empty for around a year at that time. Police had been altered after staff at the Pontypool Community Council building next door had been reporting a “strange smell” for around a month.