Re­tail bosses had con­sid­ered five other town cen­tre sites

Kent Messenger Maidstone - - FRONT PAGE - By Alan Smith aj­smith@thek­m­ @KM_news­room

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

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