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Marks & Spencer store closures: Councillor calls on M&S to confirm Bishop's Stortford branch's future



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Marks & Spencer has been asked for assurances that its Bishop's Stortford store will not be closed.

Cllr David Snowdon, chairman of the town council's finance and policy committee, who is also an East Herts Council member for Stortford's Meads ward, has written to the chain's chief executive Steve Rowe.

On Wednesday (May 26), the retailer revealed its latest trading figures, including a £201.2m loss before tax in the 2020-21 financial year compared to a £67.2m profit previously.

Town Centre, Bishop's Stortford. Road closures in place to enable pedestrianisation of South street and Potter street. .Pic Vikki Lince. (47635590)
Town Centre, Bishop's Stortford. Road closures in place to enable pedestrianisation of South street and Potter street. .Pic Vikki Lince. (47635590)

The slump was attributed to coronavirus lockdown, which triggered a 31.5% collapse in fashion sales, and Brexit adding £40m to costs.

Mr Rowe has made it clear he does not expect normal trading to resume post-Covid and that many shoppers will stay online, where he expected 40-50% of purchases to take place.

That has put the future of its bricks and mortar shops in doubt and the company is to slim its estate of 254 full-line stores – selling clothing, homewares and food – by closing those in "long-term decline".

ITV New's Joel Hills in Bishop's Stortford (47635798)
ITV New's Joel Hills in Bishop's Stortford (47635798)

About 30 stores will gradually shut over the next 10 years, while others will focus on food, but the 137-year-old brand has not yet said where the axe will fall.

That prompted ITV News business and economics editor Joel Hills to focus on the Bishop's Stortford branch by filming in South Street on Wednesday and talking to shoppers and other traders about consumer habits and how M&S drives footfall in the town centre.

Meanwhile, Cllr Snowdon asked for assurances the outlet would remain open and not be "downgraded", and told Mr Rowe: "While I fully appreciate the commercial pressure firms like M&S are under, given Covid and the changes to the UK retail environment, providing greater certainty to local communities which are looking to support their high streets would be very warmly welcomed."

Cllr Snowdon is the EHC member on Bishop's Stortford BID (Business Improvement District), which represents shops and services, and he said: "In Bishop's Stortford we are very proud of our local high street, which has been remarkably resilient amid the changes in UK retail. In recent years we have even seen national chain stores opening in our town, including H&M and Hotel Chocolat. TK Maxx has also recently announced plans to open in Stortford."

Bishop's Stortford shopper on ITV News (47635800)
Bishop's Stortford shopper on ITV News (47635800)

He urged Mr Rowe to talk to the town's stakeholders about continuing to operate in Bishop's Stortford.

A spokesman for Marks & Spencer confirmed to the Indie: "We have not made any announcement about specific store closures. This is a long-term programme."



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