Pledge to work to safeguard Falkirk town centre as M&S prepares to close

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Marks & Spencer announced the closure of its Falkirk High Street store will go ahead in August.

But hours later civic and business leaders gave a pledge to work to safeguard the town centre.

The retail giant had begun a consultation process last month on its plans to close 14 UK stores – two in Scotland in Falkirk and East Kilbride.

However, despite community efforts in both towns to save the stores and representation from politicians, M&S said on Monday they were shutting up shop.

Shona Lawrie, M&S head of region for Scotland North & East, said: “Proposing to close the store was a difficult decision. Over the past few weeks we’ve been consulting with our colleagues, and following this rigorous process, the decision has been made to close the store on August 11.

“We’d like to thank our customers and members of the local community for the feedback they’ve given over the last few weeks. We hope to see lots of customers continuing to shop with us at our surrounding local stores, 
including Falkirk Simply Food.”

The company has previously said it would try to relocate the 90 staff affected.

Reaction to the news was swift.

A spokeswoman for the Howgate shopping centre said: “We are really disappointed M&S have made this decision and feel for all the staff who are going through a challenging time.”

Falkirk MP John McNally said: “I’m saddened by news of the M&S closure. I was hopeful there would be a change of heart from them.

“The biggest blow is to the workers and their families who will be concerned for the future at this time.

“Please be assured the council is working very hard for the benefit of our town centre and there are some proposals on the table about what can be done to mitigate the disappearance of yet another major store from our main streets. Meanwhile, we should all keep in mind the importance of using our local shops and amenities whenever possible. This footfall is the lifeblood of the retailers and food outlets we rely on.”

The M&S closure blow came as a new town centre working group was meeting to look at the long-term regeneration of Falkirk town centre.

The group is made up of SNP, Labour and Tory councillors, Falkirk BID, town centre retailers, First Bus and property owners.

It plans to examine the regeneration potential across the town centre and work to attract investment to enable development which is ambitious and potentially radically different to what exists at present.

Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of Falkirk Council and chairperson of the working group said: “There is a clear agreement from all parties concerned with Falkirk’s town centre that we cannot stand by and watch the sustained impact of market pressures threatening jobs, the fabric of our High Street and its role at the heart of our community.

“Recent closure announcements by M&S and Poundworld demand that we take a radical, longer term approach to re-shaping, sustaining and growing Falkirk’s town centre.

“We were alarmed by the sudden announcement on Monday of the closure of M&S in the High Street, having expected a longer period for consideration of the decision. However we recognise that this is perhaps a tipping point for many other retailers locally, so we are saying all bets are off and we must move ahead quickly with new proposals.”

She continued: “We pledged to work with all parties – potential developers, existing retailers and others to come up with new ideas that compliment what we have in the town centre. We want to build on its heritage while thinking radically about new activity we can attract that helps protect jobs, sustain the investment made by the Council and others and attract footfall to the centre.

“We’ll be meeting again as a group very soon in order to get action underway quickly.”

Alex Fleming, Falkirk town centre manager, said: “The confirmed news that M&S will pull out of Falkirk is particularly sad.

“They have been a major player and employer in the town centre for such a long time and this will have a direct effect on town centre trading.

“It is unfortunate their withdrawal is symptomatic of the traditional style of remodelling many of these national retailers are choosing to take.

“It seems Falkirk is at a pivotal moment in the next evolution of our town centre and creative collaboration is now required. Falkirk Delivers is delighted to support the establishment of a cross party town centre regeneration group, something our town centre businesses have pushed for.

“The catalyst for change in Falkirk will be a timely council decision on a new arts & civic centre. It is my hope this group can expedite this as, Falkirk Delivers believe it will inspire confidence for much needed further investment.”