Fears for Birkenhead as M&S store will close

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Marks & Spencer in Birkenhead. Pic © Jessica Hughes JMU Journalism

The Marks & Spencer store in Birkenhead is set to close by April, sparking concerns that other town centre businesses will suffer as shoppers drift away.

The Wirral outlet, located in Grange Precinct, is one of as many as 14 M&S shops being shut down within the next three months. Local employees have been told they will be offered new roles with the company.

Birkenhead MP Frank Field is demanding urgent talks with the retail giant’s senior management over what he has called “hugely concerning news”.

He said: “I will be seeking a meeting, along with Wirral’s other MPs, in the hope of persuading M&S to rethink their position. To begin with, we will be asking M&S to set out more fully why they are doing this and the cost basis for doing so, as opposed to the goodwill they will lose.”

Many locals have reacted to the news with sadness. Speaking outside the store, 68-year-old Anne Simmons from Bebington told JMU Journalism: “It’ll be the end of Birkenhead, the final nail in the coffin.” Husband Alan, also 68, agreed, saying: “It nearly happened about 30 years ago… everything started closing down, but the town came back to life. Not this time.”

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John Dilworth, 58, from Birkenhead, said: “The town brings in different types of people but Marks & Spencer has always been the old tradition. Liscard is a prime example – they closed down Marks & Spencer there and it was never the same.”

Not everyone was predicting a local decline, however.

Pauline Sheers, 32, from Birkenhead, told JMU Journalism: “It’s a shame to see it go, but I won’t see much a difference personally because of the Asda around the corner. Marks & Spencer is a nice shop and I suppose it’s sad to see it go, but I don’t think shopping around here will be affected too much.”

Shoppers in Birkenhead. Pic © Jessica Hughes JMU Journalism

The company announced in November 2017 that it would be accelerating restructuring plans based on “better than expected level of sales transfer from closures”. Last week it was confirmed that Birkenhead was among those affected.

Sacha Berendji, Director of Retail at Marks & Spencer, said: “We believe these changes are vital for the future of M&S and we will continue to accelerate the programme, taking tough but necessary decisions, as we focus on making M&S special.”

Birkenhead First, a scheme which was set up in 2016 to encourage visitors and investment in the town centre, is a partnership between Wirral Council, the local chamber of commerce and other businesses – including Marks & Spencer.

A spokesperson for Birkenhead First said: “We are saddened by this announcement, but we will be looking to work with all organisations within the town to discuss the potential impact of the closure upon the public. We will, of course, also continue our mission to encourage new investment projects.”

About Jessica Hughes, JMU Journalism