How Weston reacted to proposed M&S closure
PUBLISHED: 07:00 17 January 2019
Weston-super-Mare's business bosses and politicians have criticised Marks & Spencer's (M&S) proposed closure of its High Street shop.
The retailer announced on Tuesday it would consult with its 74 employees with a view to shutting the store from which it has traded for 65 years. But prominent figures have spoken out, saying M&S made the ‘wrong decision’.
North Somerset Council, owners of the Sovereign Shopping Centre that houses part of M&S, also came in for criticism.
But M&S’s likely closure also presents opportunities for Weston’s independent traders to change the town’s identity, according to business chiefs.
Steve Townsend, town centre manager, told the Mercury ‘it’s obviously not great news’.
He said: “It’s strange, as they own the building. If I was doing that job, I would think about getting rid of sites which are leased rather than owned unless they already have a big player lined up to buy it.
“It’s a shame, but it’s the evolution of the High Street. You will see the demise of national retailers, and town centres will be full of independent businesses.”
Paul Batts, chairman of Weston Business Improvement District, believes independent businesses have a chance to capitalise.
He said: “It’s a disappointment, but, on the flip side, it presents opportunities for other people. “There is going to be a decline in footfall in the short term, and it’s up to the businesses around there to diversify their offerings and take this opportunity.”
Weston MP John Penrose called on the council to ‘step up its plans’ to fill the vacant retail units at the Sovereign Centre.
He added: “Weston’s economic rebirth is going well, and we can’t let a single store – even one as well-known as M&S – derail it.”
Mark Canniford, Hillside councillor, told the Mercury the closure was ‘inevitable’.
He said: “We lost M&S the moment the council chose to downgrade the High Street by filling it with retailers like B&M.
“The council needs to give up on its mistaken belief shops like B&M are going to draw people to Weston. Why would it, with Bristol right on people’s doorsteps?”
Richard Nightingale, Central ward councillor, said it was the ‘wrong decision’ amid the ongoing regeneration of the town centre.
He said: “The town’s offer to businesses is set to vastly improve; Weston’s regeneration just needs time to reach its full potential.”