RETAIL chain Home Bargains plans to create up to 700 jobs at its Liverpool-based head office as part of a £35m investment.

The discount chain, owned by the TJ Morris group, is creating the jobs after changing its mind about an original plan to expand its capacity by opening a second distribution centre in the Midlands.

But the move depends on winning planning approval for an extension to its premises at the city’s Axis Business Park.

TJ Morris, which sells toiletries, cosmetics and household goods, has opted for a single warehouse and head office operation in Liverpool, even though it is not the cheapest option for the business.

The firm already employs 400 staff at Axis, located on the East Lancashire Road at Gillmoss. The expansion would take the head office headcount to 1,100.

The firm moved to its present location from Whiston just five years ago.

The £35m extension to its head office is part of a plan that will see the group grow to a chain of 350 stores around the country over the next seven to 10 years. It currently runs about 150 stores.

The store opening programme should push sales up to the £1bn mark from their current level of £322m.

A planning applica-tion to extend TJ Mor- ris’s premises has been submitted to Liverpool City Council and the result is expected mid-January. Company director Joe Morris said: “We are looking to make a £35m investment on this site.

“The planning hearing is scheduled for January 15. If we don’t get it, we would still have to move to the Midlands. If they are not going to support us, we will have to make a quick decision about where else to go because of the pace of our expansion. We are bursting at the seams here. We will squeeze through this Christmas, but it would be very tight next year without more space, so we have to get some-thing up and running. It would be a great pity if we couldn’t do it here.”

The expansion pro-gramme will see the firm triple its workforce nationally from 4,000 to 12,000 staff.

Home Bargains was set up 30 years ago when founder Tom Morris opened his first store in Old Swan. The current 150 stores are located around the north of England, parts of the Midlands and Wales. The expansion programme will see new stores open all over the country, but with a particular emphasis on parts of Scotland and southern England, though not within the M25.

The firm has chosen to expand its Liverpool head office despite the findings of a consult-ant’s report that show-ed the Midlands ware-house would be cheaper because it would be closer to more stores. The firm says the Midlands option would cost £3.4m less.

Mr Morris said: “As a Liverpool company born and bred, we would prefer to expand here if possible.”

In the year to last June, TJ Morris saw turnover grow to £322m, up 18% from £273m in the previous year. Pre-tax profit reached £30.2m, up 50% from the previous year’s £20.3m.

Liverpool Echo