DECISION LOOMS FOR HUGE NEW M&S
Retail bosses had considered five other town centre sites
Maidstone looks set to get a huge new out-of-town Marks and Spencer (M&S) store at Eclipse Park.
Planning officers are recommending approval of a proposal for a two-storey building with 7,808 sq metres of floorspace - despite it being contrary to the council’s own “town-centre first” shop policy.
Officers said the retail giant had considered five possible town centre locations - including the former BHS store in the Mall, the Powerhub off St Peter’s Street, and the King Street car park - but each had been dismissed as unsuitable - and the borough’s own consultants agreed.
Most sites were too small for what M&S had in mind. The Power Hub, as a listed building, would be too costly to convert. The only possible contender was the redevelopment of the area around Maidstone East Station and the former Royal Mail Sorting Office.
But the council conceded it was unlikely redevelopment would go ahead until at least 2023 - and M&S wanted to open its new premises in 2020, ahead of the expiry of its lease on its womenswear store in Week Street, which runs out in 2022. The firm owns the freehold of the men’s branch, also in Week Street, and says it will continue to keep that building open to maintain a town centre presence.
Planning officers admit allowing the out-of-town development will have a detrimental effect of trade in the town centre - it anticipate a 2.8% fall in total turnover, a figure it describes as “not significant.”
It also hopes to obtain £300,000 from M&S to improve aspects of the town centre by way of mitigation. The application will be considered at the Town Hall tonight (Thursday). Owners of The Mall and Fremlin Walk and business group One Maidstone have objected, as has Medway council over fears the new store will weaken trade at Hempstead Valley Shopping Centre.
An artist’s impression of a new M&S at Eclipse Park and, below, the former Royal Mail sorting office site