Store owner says cutting size of former M&S is ‘the last thing’ town centre needs
PUBLISHED: 11:29 22 December 2019
A leading businessman has criticised moves to halve the size of Felixstowe’s former M&S store – saying the “last thing the resort needs” is less retail space.
David Harries, managing director of Russell Smith women's fashion store, neighbour of the now-closed Marks and Spencer, said the lack of large shops had always held back the town centre.
Occidental Ltd has applied for planning permission for a project which would see the ground floor commercial space of the old M&S reduced from 578sq m to 311sq m, the rear delivery bay demolished, and extensions and conversions to create an extra floor and two studio flats, eight one-bed and six two-bed apartments.
Mr Harries said: "The last thing Felixstowe needs is less retail space, particularly (losing) large units suitable for many types of modern retailing - this is an issue which has always held back the town centre.
"The town badly needs a new tenant for the building which can use it in its entirety, including upper floors and loading bay. The new owners appear to have ruled this out in return for short term gain by developing and selling off properties.
"The retailing element of the new development would use approximately 20% of the space used by the previous occupant and maybe 10% of the new building, it is disingenuous to claim this would be an improvement.
"There are many national retailers who may be interested if the property was properly marketed, it has not been so far.
"There is a strong need for shoppers to access Hamilton Road from the Highfield Road car park, this loss of amenity is having a serious effect on footfall on the shopping centre. This lack of use and the loss of income to the council and taxpayer must have already been noticed."
Mr Harries also highlighted the loss of the delivery bay in Highfield Road which would mean more lorries having to deliver from the shared space pedestrian-friendly zone - contrary to council policy.
East Suffolk Council has yet to decide whether permission will be granted for the proposed changes at the former M&S in Hamilton Road.
A retail report by property agent Fenn Wright submitted with the plans said there was limited demand for larger retail units in the region and smaller retail units with limited ancillary areas are vastly more desirable than larger stores.
Agent ECE Planning Ltd said: "The overheads are substantially reduced, but still offer the presence that retailers desire, particularly when linked with an online connection via click and collect.
"The report concludes that a reduction in the retail and ancillary floorspace will be very likely to increase the prospects of achieving a letting for a retail use which will in turn help reduce the amount of time the unit will remain vacant for.
"In light of the above, it is considered that the proposed reduction in retail space will have no harmful impact on the viability and vitality of the town centre and is in fact likely to have a beneficial impact as a result of the retail unit being more desirable to the market due to its size."
The project to cut the size of the retail space and create flats will cost around £5.5million - and only yield around £3.5m, according to analysis drawn up on behalf of developers Occidental Ltd to try to explain why the project cannot afford to include social or affordable housing.
Occidental's timetable for the project expects to gain planning permission next month and for a start on site next September.