STORE giant Marks & Spencer are shifting out of Middleton Grange Shopping Centre and moving to a new Hartlepool site.
In a development that has caused massive reaction across town, one of Britain’s biggest retail names is planning to move to the Anchor Retail Park.
Shopping centre manager Mark Rycraft said he was sorry to see M&S go, but he was looking forward to “positive developments” in the centre soon.
He added: “The centre will be sorry to see Marks and Spencer go and of course we are disappointed in their decision.
“We are however looking forward to some positive developments for Middleton Grange in the near future.
“We already have a fantastic mix of high street favourites and a diverse range of independent stores at the centre and we are close to being able to announce some new names that will be joining us.
“As always our commitment is to our shoppers and our retailers and we will endeavour to continue to offer a great shopping environment.”
All of the 50 staff at the Middleton Grange Shopping Centre M&S branch will be offered jobs at the new outlet where bosses are promising “an improved shopping experience” with a bigger food selection and a cafe.
But Hartlepool MP Iain Wright said: “The big question is what this means for the Middleton Grange Shopping Centre. This was a massive anchor and drew people in as a result, and other shops would benefit from the footfall.”
Mr Wright said there had to be “serious consideration” to how Middleton Grange Shopping Centre will maintain the footfall, but he said the good news was that no jobs would be lost thanks to the transfer.
He added: “People’s shopping habits are changing. More people want free parking and retail parks that have a wide variety of options.”
M&S will be opening in an 8,500 sq ft unit - 1,000 sq ft bigger than their current town centre base.
The move will happen in the new year although the exact date has yet to be confirmed. The Middleton Grange branch will close one day, and the Anchor Retail Park branch will open the next.
We first broke the news yesterday when we revealed that Marks & Spencer had lodged a licensing application with Hartlepool Borough Council for the shop to sell alcohol for consumption off the premises as well as within the restaurant.
It is understood the new store, which will trade under Marks & Spencer’s Simply Food banner, will be housed in the unit left vacant following the demise of the JJB Sports chain.
An M&S spokesperson said: “We have given the relocation a great deal of consideration and it is not a decision that we have taken lightly. The new store will offer a much bigger M&S food selection and an improved shopping experience, including a new 50-seat M&S Cafe and free parking.
“Most of all, we want to ensure we are in the best location to serve our customers, and one which is fit for the future of M&S. We believe we have found this in Anchor Retail Park.”
The planned move has already brought reaction from business leaders and members of the public.
Within minutes of the Mail revealing the news on its website yesterday, more than 800 people viewed the story. One commented: “I’m thinking that this is dire news for the town centre.” Another said the move was “a big nail in Middleton Grange’s coffin.”
But Colin Griffiths, a business consultant at the Stranton Business Centre in Hartlepool, believes the move could be beneficial all round for Hartlepool.
He said: “For Hartlepool, it is going to mean a bigger store which means a wider operation with very good brands that M&S does.
“From the shopping centre point of view, it could be very good if there is a major store wanting to come in and take it over.”
Coun Robbie Payne, chair of the council’s regeneration services committee, said: “Marks and Spencer has been a cornerstone of the town’s Middleton Grange Shopping Centre for many years and I am extremely disappointed at the company’s decision to leave.
“It is a relief, however, that the town is not going to lose such a prestigious retailer altogether.
“It is particularly good news that the company intends to offer all existing employees jobs at the new store.
“In the wake of this announcement, the council will continue to work closely with the owners of Middleton Grange Shopping Centre to try to ensure that the shopping centre retains its position as a key element of the local economy.”