The boss of Marks and Spencer has promised a top level summit with Wigan Council’s leader in the wake of the retailer’s plans to leave its town centre home.
Coun David Molyneux wrote to chief executive Steve Rowe after the announcement last month that the department store chain is planning to quit its Standishgate outlet and establish a food-only store at Robin Park instead.
The proposals - which M&S stress are still to be discussed - would be another big blow to Wigan’s already faltering retail scene, and would leave the town centre without a major fresh food outlet and even fewer places at which older people could buy clothes.
In his letter, Coun Molyneux voiced concern that the closure would be detrimental to the town centre.
There has been a Marks & Spencer store in Wigan since the late 19th century with founder Michael Marks living in the town while he established the chain.
Coun Molyneux wrote: “The loss of Marks & Spencer from our town centre is a significant blow. Whilst we recognise that the nature of retail on the high street is changing, the presence of Marks & Spencer is of strategic importance to us.
“I accept that retailers need to adapt to changing retail trends I would like to explore whether there is any possibility of maintaining a presence within our town centre.
“If this is not a viable option I would ask that Wigan Council is consulted on the way that the lease for your current premises is marketed, as the council has a responsibility to ensure the long-term sustainability of the town centre.”
Steve Rowe, who has been M&S chief executive since 2016, responded to Coun Molyneux explaining the proposed move was part of a wider strategy to close 100 M&S stores selling clothing and home products by 2022 and to grow their business online.
He stated: “We fully appreciate your interest in our future plans in Wigan, particularly given our long-standing association with the town.
“Whilst the exact details of the programme are still to be finalised we have announced plans for the closure of approximately 100 M&S stores selling clothes and home products to take place by 2022 alongside other actions such as store relocations, concessions and downsizes.
“In relation to Wigan, we have recently made colleagues aware of our intention to explore a relocation of the town centre store to a new M&S Foodhall at the Robin Retail Park. However, no proposals have been finalised at this stage.
“Should the relocation go ahead one of our major priorities is continuity for colleagues with the aim of redeploying the majority to Robin Retail Park or other M&S stores nearby.”
The council leader said while the response does not offer any major hopes of the store remaining in the town centre he welcomed the offer of a meeting which he will use to establish the future plans for the prominent store which the company still owns.
He said: “The public reaction to the news that M&S are looking to leave Wigan town centre illustrated the value which the local community place in the store and the long-held affection people have for it.
“I welcome Steve Rowe’s response to my concerns. The fact that M&S will be remaining in the town as an important business and employer is to be commended.
“Nevertheless the future of their large town centre location is very important to the town and I will be taking up Mr Rowe’s offer of a meeting with his property division to press for answers on their future plans for this building.
“We don’t know when the proposed move will take place but once it does I will be urging the company to have a new business in that town centre location as quickly as possible.”
The council is currently working on a future masterplan for the Galleries shopping centre which it acquired earlier this year.
New uses being looked at to compliment the retail offer include residential, food and drink and leisure activities.