The announcement that Marks & Spencer (M&S) is to open two new retail commercial properties in North Staffordshire has been welcomed by local traders and community leaders. The plans represent a major boost to the area as it continues the process of regeneration following the decline of its traditional industries. They also confirm that M&S remains committed to its pledge that 95% of the UK population will be no more than a 30 minute drive from a full-line M&S store by 2015.
M&S currently has over 700 stores on high streets, in shopping centres and out of town commercial property developments throughout the UK. These range in size from the 170,000 square feet Marble Arch department store down to the more modest 7,000 square feet typically occupied by its Simply Food outlets. The proposed North Staffordshire developments will be towards the upper end of this scale and are expected to create hundreds of new jobs in the area.
The first of the proposed stores will be located at Wolstanton Retail Park in Newcastle-under-Lyme, a commercial property development occupying the site of what was once the deepest coal mine in Europe. The plans submitted by M&S are for a 140,000 sq ft outlet which would sell clothing, home ware and food.
An M&S spokesman told the Sentinel that the proposal “represents a significant investment in the region” and that it was anticipated that up to 250 in-store jobs would be created with a further 100 involved during construction. The news has been warmly received. Doug Wardle, chairman of the City Centre Partnership, is delighted that M&S consider “the area buoyant enough to warrant a new branch” and says that it can only benefit Wolstanton. The store will open in 2014 if approved.
The second M&S store will occupy a prime location at the heart of City Sentral, a £350 million city centre commercial property development in Stoke-on-Trent The retailer already has a city centre outlet and it is thought that this will relocate to the 100,000 square feet store when the development is completed in 2015. City Sentral – the name of which is already widely known courtesy of a local controversy over the intentional misspelling – will incorporate a hotel and cinema as well as over 70 shops, cafes and restaurants.
M&S is keen to stress that it is not hedging its bets and that the company is equally committed to both projects. A spokesman says; “At the moment we see City Sentral and Wolstanton as two separate developments. It’s not a case of if one goes ahead the other doesn’t.” This is good news for the City Council which has been seeking a major retailer to act as a flagship for City Sentral. Cabinet member for economic development Mark Meredith expressed his delight over the development saying: “Today we can finally say the dreams are coming true.”
The North Staffordshire developments are part of a major drive by M&S to step up its commercial property growth by 3% each year until 2015, to reach its 30 minute target. At the same time the company is carrying out refurbishment of its existing stores and improving energy consumption in line with its commitment to become the world’s greenest major retailer by the same date.