“City-centric focus” shows worrying sign of things to come for Welsh towns

SIONED Williams MS, Plaid Cymru’s Member of Senedd for South Wales West, recently wrote to Marks and Spencer to express concerns about the proposed closure of the store in Neath, to find out sales figures for the store, and to ascertain whether alternative options are being considered that would maintain the presence of the brand in Neath town centre.

Ms Williams, who is the only Member of Senedd with a constituency office in Neath, has previously expressed concerns that the closure of the store would be a “town killing” move.

In a response to Ms Williams’ letter, Marks and Spencer UK and Ireland Operations Director confirmed that “sales performance and our overall sales” declined by 9.3% over the last decade, although as Ms Williams points out:

“The letter does not confirm how much of that decline has been since COVID, nor does it confirm whether the store in fact remains profitable, despite the dip in profits.”

The M&S Operations Director goes on to confirm that the Neath store is “sadly not suitable” for reconfiguring into a food hall, nor is the company looking to relocate to a smaller site, which has led Ms Williams to conclude that the outcome is a “done deal in all but name.”

Sioned Williams MS, Plaid Cymru Member of Senedd for South Wales West, said:

“I believe that our town centres remain the hubs of our communities, and Neath particularly, with its fabulous market, mainline train station and variety of shops and cafes. It’s one of the reasons I chose it as the location for my Senedd office.

“Retail across the board has been impacted by COVID and most stores have felt the hit of rising costs on their profit line. If Welsh Government is serious about making ‘our cities, towns and villages even better places in which to live and work’ then they need to take more steps to ensure businesses are able to run there.

“If the current M&S premises is no longer suitable, refurbishment costs are too high, and they’re not looking to relocate to one of the new or empty units in the town centre, or reconfigure into a food hall, then I can’t see what other option remains for this much valued store. I’m afraid that closure looks very much like a done deal in all but name.

“This will be a devastating blow to the town and its residents. While M&S talks about the closure of the Neath store meaning it can keep investing in other Welsh stores, including existing stores in Cardiff and Swansea, and new stores in Llandudno and Wrexham, this doesn’t help the people of Neath, who have served the company and furnished them with profits over so many decades.”

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