Closing the doors of Marks & Spencer on Falkirk’s High Street will not only impact on the staff and shoppers, but the wider community.
That’s the message from politicians, civic leaders, business people and residents across the district.
It is also the reason that The Falkirk Herald is launching a campaign to ‘Save our M&S’.
The potential loss of the major retailer is too important to accept without giving everyone affected an opportunity to make their views known.
This week we call on Steve Rowe, chief executive of M&S, not only to consult with staff about the proposed closure, but also the community at large.
Only then will he and his management team appreciate the strength of feeling about the loss of this popular High Street store.
At a time when the regeneration of the town centre is gathering pace – £5 million spent upgrading the look of the historic heart of Falkirk – there is widespread disappointment at the decision by the leading retailer to “consult” on the proposed closure of the store which has an 80 years-plus association with our High Street.
Not only is there disquiet at the move, but there is also a strong sense of frustration at how the company has handled its proposal.
Despite being a landlord for part of the 39,000 square foot store, bosses at the Howgate shopping centre only learned of the closure consultation as news filtered out from the shopfloor.
Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of Falkirk Council, said she had expressed “profound disappointment and concern over the potential loss of this key high street store and what it means for the staff and the wider community”.
Now she is urgingM&S bosses to meet to discuss the reasons for their decision.
She said: “I want to have engagement with them around what would be required to enable them to continue to have a retail outlet in Falkirk High Street, and what support we can offer the staff.
“The announcement by M&S should be ringing alarm bells in every high street the length and breadth of the country, however for Falkirk the significance being it could potentially put in jeopardy our town centre regeneration programme.
“We have just invested through our Townscape Heritage project £5 million to improve the historic core, improving the environment and making it more accessible.
“We have been working closely with Falkirk Delivers to promote the town centre. I have had recent discussions about holding a summit with all town centre partners, including retailers, Scottish Enterprise and Government etc and to look at developing a collaborative economic strategy for Falkirk town centre, this now needs to be escalated.”
Her comments were echoed by Falkirk West MSP Michael Matheson who said: “The impact this proposed closure would have on our town centre cannot be underestimated, so I’m 100 per cent behind this campaign to urge M&S to rethink their decision – or at least consider other options to retain some kind of presence on our High Street.
“Falkirk Council has shown commitment to making our town centre more attractive to shoppers with their recent investment and I find it hard to believe that a business of the stature of M&S can’t see a way of running an economically viable store on the High Street of a town the size of Falkirk.”
Falkirk MP John McNally also voiced concerns, saying: “I wholeheartedly support The Falkirk Herald in its aim to encourage M&S to reconsider the proposed permanent closure of their Falkirk High Street store. This is devastating news for the whole of Falkirk town centre as M&S is an integral part of the shopping culture there.
“I have previously asked Chancellor Philip Hammond about what the government is doing to challenge the effect of bricks versus clicks. It appears to have fallen on deaf ears. ”
Expressing disappointment at the proposed closure, Suzanne Arkinson, Howgate general manager, said: “The staff in this particular store are fantastic and have a real rapport with the local community. It’s such a shame that this isn’t factored in to their decision making.
“Many of our customers rely on this store because of its location and the convenience of being able to purchase food, fashion and homeware in a single transaction. The retail park is not an option for many.” number of their core shoppers and many town centre workers who visit the store every day will feel let down by this decision.
“Although M&S own their building they have a lease with the Howgate for the space at the café. We were surprised and disappointed that they didn’t discuss the potential closure with the landlord. We wonder if they looked for alternative options such as a smaller unit within the centre, selling/renting the unused floors of their building or converting them to habitable space.
“The only way to revitalise the core town centre is to change its function and we hope that Falkirk Council can agree on a vision for the area urgently, and use this to attract investment from other sectors.”