A MAJOR blow has been dealt to Portsmouth’s city centre as Marks & Spencer announced that it is looking at closing its store.
It has upset traders, who claim one of Portsmouth’s biggest shopping precincts – Commercial Road – has been left to rot by Portsmouth City Council.
The revelation has prompted fresh fears that trade will plummet, killing off independent retailers.
And the M&S announcement comes as Debenhams, which has a store in Commercial Road, said it was reviewing the future of 10 stores nationwide – the locations have not been revealed.
Wendy Shilcock, who owns G&S Jewellers in Charlotte Street with her husband Graham, said urgent action was needed to address the shabby state of the centre.
The 70-year-old jeweller said: ‘I’m so incensed and so upset. I have been a trader for 30 years in Portsmouth city centre and in that time I have been forced to watch the demise of Commercial Road. It’s heartbreaking.
‘The ambience of the area has gone. The council has done nothing to attract any new business.’
Yesterday, M&S announced it is consulting with 100 staff members at the store in Cascades Shopping Centre about the closure. If the proposal goes ahead, the firm says all staff would be redeployed at nearby stores.
The announcement is part of its wider proposals to close six stores across the UK. If it goes ahead, the store would close early next year.
City centre traders are now demanding action from the local authority.
They voiced concerns about a plan to bring in a new gambling site to the road. The facility, which has yet to be approved, would take over the premises next to the Holland & Barrett store.
Likewise, retailers have argued not enough is being done to help homeless people in the area.
Mr Shilcock said the state of the city centre’s shopping precinct was at an all-time low. He said: ‘We’re seeing the demise of the city centre in front of our very eyes.’
He added a project to tidy up the southern end of the precinct by the city council had done nothing to improve trade or attract in customers.
‘Nobody wants to spend any money on it,’ he said.
‘The council keeps talking about tidying the street up.
‘They have cobbled up the street. But that is doing absolutely nothing to help trade.’
Portsmouth’s Labour group backed calls for a better deal to regenerate the city centre.
Labour leader Cllr Stephen Morgan said: ‘These latest proposals from M&S are a real concern. More must be done to keep international retailers and well-known brands on our high streets.
‘Portsmouth needs to retain businesses and attract more private sector investment to help create good quality jobs.
‘It’s time the heart of our city gets its beat back and is a destination once again.’
In a statement Portsmouth City Council said: ‘We are saddened to hear Marks & Spencer is considering closing its Commercial Road store and we have arranged an urgent meeting with the company’s management to discuss the situation.
‘The council doesn’t own the properties on Commercial Road but is committed to ensure that the heart of the city continues to develop as a vibrant and active city centre.
‘The council has been working with Savills who have designed a masterplan for the City Centre North redevelopment and the new city centre road scheme. This is a £300m development that will transform Commercial Road and the city centre. With 2,700 students moving into the city centre in the next five months, the local economy is set to grow and shops will see a significant increase in footfall.
‘The new city centre masterplan is due to be launched formally (next month).’
M&S also announced plans to open a new foodhall in Portsmouth at Ocean Retail Park in Burrfields Road, early in 2018.
Gordon Scott, regional manager at M&S, said: ‘Proposing to close our store in Portsmouth is not a decision we have taken lightly.
‘We value the loyalty of our customers in the city and know that some of them will be disappointed. We are working closely with our colleagues on the consultation. It is our intention that nobody would leave M&S.’
The proposed closure of M&S Portsmouth, which has been there for more than 100 years, is part of a five-year UK store estate programme announced in November last year.