The revival of a key town centre building could help drive the city’s recovery from coronavirus, says the leader of Carlisle City Council.

John Mallinson was responding to confirmation from Edinburgh Woollen Mill (EWM) that they had purchased the former Hoopers department store.

There had long been speculation surrounding interest in the site, but the Carlisle-based retailer has now confirmed the purchase to the News & Star.

A spokesman for EWM Group said: “We bought the Hoopers building in February before the current coronavirus pandemic.

“We are looking at options that could add real value locally, but that process has clearly been delayed by the current crisis. It is a significant landmark in Carlisle and we are proud to be part of its history.”

The building was bought from an unknown individual, who wished for his identity and the value of the sale to be withheld from the public. The site has in the past been listed for £1.5m.

The News & Star understands that EMW bosses have not yet properly had the chance to visit the site due to coronavirus and so a decision on plans for the building has yet to be made.

EMW had negotiated with old owners back in 2012/13 before it was sold at auction and have had the site on their radar ever since.

It is understood the retailer is open to all options for its future use and will be liaising with the public and the council in due course.

Mr Mallinson, who said he was made aware of the sale after it happened on a confidential basis, said: “It is very welcome and an excellent boost to the economy.

“It comes at a very good time and will maybe give us a boost and help us deal with the recovery from Covid-19. It is at the heart of the rebuilding of the city centre.”

It was originally the family-owned Bulloughs department store, for almost a century, before becoming Hoopers in 2006. It then reopened briefly as a discount designer outlet but has now stood empty since 2013.

The council leader says he is hopeful for the future.

“I’m looking forward to see what plans they have,” continued Mr Mallinson.

“Edinburgh Woollen Mill is a robust and successful company, so I have every confidence that whatever they do will improve the economy in the surrounding area.”

The deterioration of the site has had a knock-on effect on the area, according to Mr Mallinson.

“There is nothing worse for a city centre than a lot of empty buildings,” he explained.

“It has gone on for some years now. It was always a focal point when it was Bulloughs and then Hoopers - a big part of that section of the city centre.

“Since its demise, the rest of Castle Street has suffered because of it."