THE opening of a Marks and Spencer store for the first time in the Havant borough has been heralded as a major boost.
The high street giant has announced that it will be opening an M&S Simply Food store in the former JJB shop at Wellington Retail Park, Waterlooville.
Work is under way and planning applications have been received by Havant Borough Council to make alterations.
The store is expected to open next year and will create dozens of much-needed jobs.
The announcement was welcomed by business leaders and residents – many of whom have been hoping for years that a big name chain would come to the borough.
Shoppers are known to travel from far and wide to shop at the high-quality store.
Rosemary Wilson, chairwoman of Waterlooville Business Association, said: ‘People are saying “When’s it coming?”.
‘It has a name to it.
‘The only problem is it that it will be outside the town as far as we consider it.
‘But people will hopefully park there because it’s free and then walk into the town to have a look round.’
Council leader Tony Briggs said: ‘It’s brilliant.
‘It’s just the sort of thing we need.
‘It has come at a good time.
‘The announcement that unemployment had dropped by 99,000 nationally clearly shows the economy is on the move upwards.
‘To have a large company like M&S investing in the borough is welcome news and it can only help the recovery move forward even faster.’
Ann Griffiths, who has lived in Havant for more than 40 years, said she hoped that Havant town centre could also attract an M&S.
‘I would be lovely to have one in Havant,’ she said.
‘People would have a wide choice and come from quite a distance to shop here.’
Company officials said 150 stores would be opening across the country.
A typical UK M&S Simply Food store stocks 6,000 food and drink lines and has a bakery and M&S Cafe.
Steve Rowe, executive director of food, said: ‘We are confirming plans to extend our unique food offer to even more UK customers by opening 150 new Simply Food stores in areas where we are currently significantly under represented.’
Chief executive Marc Bolland added: ‘Our food business has gone from strength to strength.’