People could soon be living above one of the town centre’s most distinctive buildings.

Developer Wass Homes wants to convert the floors over two former Regent Street stores into flats.

One was most recently used by the Phones 4 U chain – its neighbour was once the home of furnishing shop William Wallace Hunter.

Its side runs along Edgware Road and the building features fake pillars, ornate fanlights and the legend WW Hunter spelled out in cream bricks.

It was built in 1901 and remained in the company’s hands until the 1940s.

It was later used by Laura Ashley and Envy fashion chains and a number of mobile phone shops.

Both stores have been empty for some time.

The Wass Homes application says: “The properties have been marketed by agents as retail units over a long period of time, only being able to achieve temporary lettings during that period.

“Permanent occupiers have proved difficult or impossible to find even though rents in the vicinity have fallen substantially over the last 10 years.”

The proposal by the developers is to keep the shops on the ground floor as separate, and still available as retail units.

It would build two ground-floor flats at the back and knock through the two upper storeys on each building, converting the space into five flats per floor. All 12 apartments will have one bedroom.

A communal door for the flats will be built in the Edgeware Road side of the complex.

The application says retaining the shops on the ground floor, and converting the upper floors into flats would “retain the character of Regent Street and the surrounding central area”and of the “large attractive and decorative” 1901 store.

No parking spaces are allocated and the borough council’s standards say they are not necessary for homes in such a central area.

The authority has a policy of generally encouraging the conversion of flats and even some office buildings into housing – although not necessarily in Regent Street, with buildings further towards the railway line being favoured.