A CHANGE-OF-USE proposal that would see part of a town-centre shopping mall turned into a teaching facility for hundreds of students is expected to be approved today.

The scheme would see around 58,000 sq metres across the first and second floors of Kendal's Westmorland Shopping Centre being used by Kendal College.

It would reduce the strain on a college that has been forced to use portacabins for extra classroom space to facilitate continued growth.

The site would accommodate around 400 students - 80 per cent being between 16 and 19 years of age - and 30 members of staff.

A public report produced ahead of the meeting of South Lakeland District Council's planning committee today said there were considered to be an 'adequate number of existing empty units to accommodate the businesses currently occupying the retail units that would be displaced' by the change-of-use plans.

The report said the current vacancy rate of the shopping centre was around 25 per cent.

A planning support statement, produced by Lambert Smith Hampton on behalf of Kendal College, said there was a 'significant ongoing cost' associated with the continued use of portacabins at Kendal College and that these cabins had 'an adverse visual impact on the wider existing area'.

The statement said the change-of-use proposal would 'draw new footfall' into the town centre and 'create increased spend and rejuvenation of the town-centre economy'.

This was a view echoed in SLDC's pre-meeting report, which referred to a 2019 estimate from OneFamily financial services that suggested the average weekly spend of a 16-year-old was £24. This rose to £68 for 19 year olds. Retail was said to account for 84 per cent of teen spending.

"Based on the average age group of students and areas of the economy in which they spend the majority of their money, the proposal is considered to be beneficial to the economy of the high street," said the report.

Under the change-of-use scheme, the ground floor and southern section of the first floor - including the indoor market - of the shopping centre would be retained for retail.

The plan, submitted by Kendal College principal Kelvin Nash, has been recommended to the planning committee for approval.