A BAR chain aims to move into Winchester in the space formerly occupied by Next on the High Street.

Loungers Ltd has applied for a change of use of the building, between Debenhams and Rick Stein.

It will be the biggest opening in Winchester for several years and is a shot in the arm for the High Street, yet to emerge from the coronavirus lockdown.

Lounge started in Bristol in 2002 and now has well over 100 bars across the south of England.

If planning permission is approved it will energise the space that has been vacant for two years since Next moved out in June 2018. The floors above the unit is now Travelodge, accessed from Market Lane.

It plans to operate the premises under its Cosy Club brand and to open seven days a week from 8am to 1.30am Monday to Saturdays and 8am to 11pm on Sundays and bank holidays.

Loungers and its planning agents are aware that the proposal would entail the loss of a shop, which could be against local planning policy. But in its application it states: “The proposed used would undoubtedly improve the vitality and viability of this part of the city centre. The unit has been vacant since Next closed in June 2018, so nearly two years.

“The proposed Cosy Club would complement the existing retail function of the centre, rather than undermining it. Many café’s/restaurants do not display the operational characteristics which a Cosy Club would offer, with many restaurants not open until midday or evening and café’s closing before the end of the trading day. The proposed use would be open from 8am until late, which would complement the function of the retail centre during the day, whilst also extending the time which the city centre would be active, aiding the evening economy.

“The Cosy Club/Loungers concepts have also been known to increase the footfall in areas where their units have opened.”

As well as the approval for a change of use from from retail to café/restaurant, the bar also wants permission for chairs and tables on the street and install an extraction system.