People across Bedford have been reacting strongly to the news that Bedford Town Centre’s Marks & Spencer store faces closure. Some say it’s a disaster for our town, others say it’s simply indicative of how high streets are evolving.
Councillors, MPs and other authorities say now is the time to work with M&S to make sure the store remains open.
The Bedford Independent broke the news this morning that M&S bosses had told 63 staff members of staff that the Midland Road store is no longer viable and, subject to consultation with their employee representative group, is facing closure.
Bedford Independent reader, Claire said: “Well that’s the end of this Town Centre. Can I suggest the Borough coverts this store and the old BHS building into small in door markets.
“We are a wonderful town with many different nationalities living here! Why can’t we have loads of small units for start ups using/selling all the different skills/services/products!
“It would make the town centre come alive again and make Bedford really special!!”
Whereas, Janet Piesse said: “Not everyone has a car to get to the retail parks, nor do a big number of older people use internet shopping. This will be the death of the town.
“Can’t see Debenhams lasting long either. Bedford Council should be doing something to revitalise this Town, after all it has a thriving market.”
Mayor Dave Hodgson has also added his thoughts: “It’s terrible news that despite the way Bedford has bucked the trend for town centres, this store and its employees are caught up in the M&S national closure programme.
“It will be extremely worrying for staff, and it’s vital that the consultation with them is genuine. In the meantime, I’ll be stressing to M&S that it should think again and remove the Bedford town centre store from the list of closures across the country.”
Leader of the Bedford Borough Conservative Group, Cllr Stephen Moon added: “Marks & Spencer’s decision to close its Bedford store is hugely disappointing and will obviously be distressing for the staff affected. It is particularly surprising given that the store worked well with Bedford BID over the Christmas period and reported strong sales.
“This decision underlines the difficulties facing the town centre environment given the increase in the proportion of online retail sales and the continuing growth in out of town retail centres.
“The Council urgently needs to take a lead on this and work with Marks & Spencer to see if the store can be saved. It is also overdue in developing a coherent set of policies to assist the town centre.”
People like Bedford Independent reader, Alice Gadney, believe this is simply part of the way town centres are evolving: “The high street may be changing status – then not the big retailers but small independent specialist shops. Stuff you can’t or don’t want to get on the internet. Bedford has some incredible talented artists and makers – see at the Made in Bedford’s Spring Artisan Fair there were over 70 stalls at the winter one – all coming from Bedfordshire!”
Local MP, Alistair Burt who constituency covers parts of Bedford Borough seemed to agree: “I regret the loss of M&S – a landmark store, and I’m very sorry for those whose jobs will be lost. But we all know retail is changing significantly from different ways of shopping.
So Bedford will respond powerfully I’m sure with imagination and innovative ways to bring people into the town. Our town centres will continue as they always have to evolve and look different in the future.”
Others blamed the uncertainty of Brexit. Bedfordshire’s Labour MEP Alex Mayer said: “This is devastating news for the staff and a blow to Bedford shoppers. M&S is one of the lynch pins of the town centre.
“Since 2015 more than 100,000 retail jobs have been lost in stores across Britain, as real wages have stagnated and the Government’s botched handling of the Brexit negotiations has hit consumer and business confidence.
“The Government need a plan. They should urgently reform business rates to ease the burden on traditional high streets and town centres.”
Meanwhile Bedford and Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin, says he’ll now be working to make sure all options are discussed before a final decision is made: “This is a big blow to Bedford and to the 68 staff who face an uncertain future. I will be contacting M&S management today to discuss whether this really is the only option for our M&S.”
Christina Rowe, Director of BedfordBID, who represent businesses across Bedford Town Centre agreed that it’s important everyone works together to prevent the closure: “We are liaising with the council and M&S locally to get a clearer picture. We understand that this is just a consultation at the moment so we encourage people to keep visiting the store to show how much we love M&S.”
Calum Telford, M&S Head of Region for East Anglia, said: “Proposing to close our Bedford store has been a difficult decision. Over the coming weeks we will be consulting with colleagues on an individual basis and discuss what is best for them.”