The leader of Chorley Council has accused M&S of “messing about” the town over suggestions the retailer could pull out of its £17m Market Walk development.
M&S was planned as one of the main tenants for the revamp and extension of the Market Walk shopping centre, which also includes a six-screen cinema. The investment, which will create seven new units, is expected to cost £12.6m, with a further £4m going towards public realm improvements.
However, the council said M&S was now reconsidering its plans for the town after it reported a 5.3% drop in pre-tax profit in its half-year results for 2017. The retailer said it would now cut its capital expenditure to between £300m and £350m, down from previous guidance of £400m.
Cllr Alistair Bradley, leader of Chorley Council, said the news was “incredibly frustrating” for the town, and added that it could lead to delays in construction work starting on the project.
“I can’t express how annoyed we are by the messing about we’ve had from M&S but we are where we are and it throws up an opportunity for us to look again at the proposals and see where we go next,” he said.
“It’s incredibly frustrating but the investment that we’ve made is still relevant because we’ve been doing all the preparation work or improvements that would have had to have been made anyway to develop the shopping centre.
“Our understanding is that out of the dozens of new stores M&S were due to open only a handful are now being progressed, which shows this is a national concern and not just one relating to Chorley.
“It may be that they will still decide to come to Chorley but while they finish their review we don’t know exactly what their plans are.”
A £17m funding package for Market Walk was signed off in September 2016.
Construction work was expected to be completed by late 2018 but following M&S’ potential pull-out, this could be delayed, according to the council.
M&S could be the second major company to reconsider Market Walk in the last few months, after TK Maxx was unable to reach an agreement with the council to join the development.
Bradley said the project would still be going ahead despite the delays, and added the council could “think again” on what type of tenants it would look to attract to Market Walk if the M&S store does not go ahead.
“We’ve said right from the start that we are making improvements to the town centre because it is the right thing to do if we are going to support our local traders and give the town centre a viable future – the biggest risk would be to do nothing.
“The preparation works were coming to a finish shortly so it is an opportune time for us to pause and reconsider which direction we want to go – if M&S do confirm they aren’t coming to Chorley what type of retailers do we want to focus on? Do we move to a solely leisure-based development with the cinema as a focal point?
“These are the types of questions we will be thinking about in the coming days and we value everyone’s input.”
In November last year, M&S pulled out as an anchor tenant at Oldham’s £60m Prince’s Gate development, after committing to the project in late 2014.
Prince’s Gate has yet to progress, despite contractors including Vinci and McLaughlin & Harvey bidding for the work. Last year, the council said it was “continuing discussions” with M&S and other retailers for the site.
A spokesperson for M&S said: “We said last week that we are slowing our Simply Food opening programme.
“We have not made any announcement about the proposed store in Chorley and will provide an update at the earliest opportunity.”