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Reactions to announced closure of Neath’s Marks & Spencer

The Marks & Spencer Store On Green Street, Neath (Pic: Google Maps)

LOCAL councillors and business owners have reacted to the announced closure of the Neath town centre Marks & Spencer, in what they say could be a devastating blow to the town.

The company broke the news that its store in Neath would be closing later this year, saying it was was due to shopping habits “changing” and the subsequent need to focus investment “on the right stores in the right places.”

The popular retailer, which is based in Green Street, will be closing in May of this year, though no exact date has yet been confirmed by the retailer, with an unknown number of jobs set to be impacted.

It is the latest in a series of twists and turns for large businesses based in the vicinity of Neath town, after the closure of the local Wilko store was announced in 2023.

While there was a light at the end of the tunnel in this case as the site is now set to be filled by garden superstore, The Range, on the high-street in Neath local shop owners say this latest closure of M&S could leave them facing uncertain times.

It also comes in the wake of more than 3,000 job losses announced in the neighbouring town of Port Talbot, as the company looks to transition the site to an electric steel arc by closing down it’s two iconic blast furnaces. You can read more about that here.

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Adam Isaac Ahmed is store manager of a women’s clothing shop in Neath called Coco Blush, and said it could have a big impact for them.

He said: “This will definitely have a negative impact on the town because Marks & Spencer is such a big brand name and it brings a lot of people out of their houses to come to the town.

“Especially with our shop, which is a small independent business, we find it brings a lot of footfall with the ladies who go there first then migrate over to our shop for a look, and it is a main attraction in Neath.

“Unless there’s a bigger and better shop that’s going to take its place now I can’t really see any positives. The high street seems to be dying at the moment, and I don’t think people have the money to go shopping as much with the cost of things going through the roof.”

Lee Howard owns 46 Coffee Shop in Queen Street in Neath and added: “In general we are a strong independent shop so I think we will cope, but the footfall in the town will definitely go down. There’s a lot of uncertainty at the moment and I think it does hit the morale of the town to hear about these types of closures, especially with everything that’s happening down at Tata steel.”

Cllr Alun Lockyer is the county council member for the Neath North ward and said that while there were always hopes of getting another store to fill the unit, many in the area would be disappointed by the news. He said: “People are devastated because that was the main anchor store along with boots in Neath.

“People come to Neath specifically for the fact that there is a Marks & Spencer. We were just getting excited that the Range was coming to Neath following the Wilko closure, then this comes along straight after, so we are genuinely saddened.”

Rob Jones, who is the Labour party group leader for the area, added: “This is another blow to Neath Port Talbot with the devastating news of the closure of Marks & Spencer. It’s going to leave a hole in the trading market, particularly in Neath town centre.”

The leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, Cllr Steve Hunt, also expressed his disappointment at the news. He said: “M&S has been an important part of Neath town centre for almost 90 years and will be missed by many. We will, however, continue to work with existing businesses and invest in a town centre in which footfall has increased considerably since the addition of the leisure centre, library and gym complex.

“A strong retail sector makes a vital contribution to the wider well-being of the whole community.” He added: “Despite the challenging economic times and the changes in shopping habits M&S refers to, Neath has recently managed to attract the likes of the Cadno Lounge (part of the Loungers chain), the Welsh House, and the Range, which is occupying the store vacated last year by Wilko.

“I would like to give assurances that the council’s employment support team will be on hand to support those affected by the closure decision and that our economic development and regeneration officers will work hard to mitigate the impact of the loss of what has been a flagship store. As the leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, I’m appealing to M&S to reconsider their decision to close the Neath store.”

In a statement released on Wednesday, February 21, M&S regional manager Allison Jenkins said: “We are committed to Wales and in the past three years we have invested £18m in updating our Welsh stores and we’re also growing the number of Welsh suppliers we’re working with.

“Shopping habits are changing, and this means we need to focus our investment on the right stores in the right places so we can provide the very best shopping experience for our customers. As part of this transformation, we have today announced to colleagues our proposals to close our Neath store in May, 2024.

“This has been a tough decision but means we can invest in many of our twenty-two other stores in Wales, so we keep pace with the demands of our customers today and in the future. Our priority now is to talk to our colleagues about what this announcement means for them and to support them through these changes.”