DEPARTMENT store bosses are determined to remain in Brighton despite their landlords submitting a planning application for a restaurant and flats.

Staff at Heal’s have been shocked by the submission of a planning application to Brighton and Hove City Council which has put their Duke Street site into question. But the pension fund behind the proposals said that the plans were not yet “fully worked up” and the application was simply “exploring possibilities” for the future long-term use of the site.

The application proposes to change the “existing multi-storey retail unit” to a restaurant at its basement and ground floor levels with seven one and two bedroom flats on the four floors above.

The application states the proposed transformation of the store would involve minimal alterations to the external appearance of the building with the replacement of upper floor windows, alterations to the ground floor side lobby entrance door and the installation of glass balustrades to the roof.

The plans have been drawn up by Hove-based architects Page Partnership on behalf of the Elephant Pension Fund.

Heal’s Brighton opened in June 2007 and has five floors of interior decor including a range of designer furniture, designer gifts, a Gourmet Kitchen department, a “Sleep Studio” and lighting section.

The site currently has 830 sqm of retail space but would be reduced to 318 square metres of restaurant space with the rest converting to residential.

Heal’s retail director James Thompson said: “We have no intention of exiting Brighton, we are dead set on the city as a location. We are trading well at the site and have had a seven year lease on the shop. This has come completely out of the blue but we have every intention of staying where we are.”

Miles Gill from the Bristol-based Elephant Pension Fund said: “This application is just exploring possibilities. We have to take a long-term view of the building and we are examining different options. It is not a fully worked up project yet, it is an idea and wouldn’t necessarily be something we would act upon as soon as we get planning permission.”

A decision on the application is expected at the end of October.