Leader of Test Valley Borough Council, Councillor Phil North, and Kit Malthouse, MP for North West Hampshire, had a long and, at times, heated meeting with representatives of Marks and Spencer at the House of Commons today. They warned that it would be a grave mistake for the company to leave Andover.
They made the case for Andover in the strongest possible terms, as a town where jobs, population and investment are all increasing substantially. They expressed their concerns that M&S had not taken sufficient account of both present and predicted growth. They emphasised the value that Andoverians placed on M&S’s presence in the High Street and handed over the petition organised by Councillors Iris Andersen and John Cockaday, which has already gathered nearly 3700 signatures.
M&S presented the proposed closure as part of its strategy to move away from ‘bricks and mortar’ for “clothing and home sales”. They stated that the Andover store was underperforming on these ranges, but agreed its food section was doing well. They conceded there was some force in townspeople’s arguments that the store had suffered from under-investment in the past and that the clothing lines, in particular, were not as attractive as in some other M&S stores.
They confirmed that M&S are keen to have a Simply Food presence in Andover, but were adamant that their existing premises were not fit for that purpose. It was agreed that they would work with the Council in their search for the right site.
Councillor Phil North said: “I was not convinced by M&S’s arguments. They could be used to justify closing almost any High Street store. Their food sales are clearly thriving in Andover, so it is no surprise that they want to open a Simply Food with a Click and Collect facility for clothing. That is the very least that we must achieve from this – and I and the council will do everything we can to ensure a continued M&S presence in Andover. The current and future investments in Andover Town Centre through the Town Mills Riverside Project, the Cultural Quarter and the Leisure Centre, as well as our aims for the redevelopment of the Chantry Centre, demonstrate a real ambition for the future of the whole town, and especially the town centre.”
Kit Malthouse MP said: “I am incredibly disappointed M&S have only now entered into a dialogue with us. I am delighted their food sales are doing so well and not surprised that their clothing sales are down, as they simply don’t stock the optimal lines. I propose to write again to M&S Chairman, Archie Norman, urging him to re-consider and, come what may, to take swift action about their food offer in Andover.”
Councillor Phil North and Kit Malthouse MP are arranging a meeting with the Director of Retail at M&S, Sacha Berendji, later this month to continue to press the case.