Campaigners have rallied to save Paisley’s M&S branch before its closure has a devastating impact on the High Street.
The retail giant announced its plans to close the town centre store on Friday to make way for a new unit within Wallneuk Retail Park on Renfrew Road.
The controversial move has been met with a backlash from concerned shoppers, with a petition being launched calling for the store to be saved.
The online petition, which says the M&S store is “vital to the people of Paisley”, currently has more than 630 signatures.
Politicians and councillors have blasted the plans, which they say will have a major impact on businesses already struggling due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many businesses across the local authority have just reopened following four months of closures, which has devastated Renfrewshire’s economy.
Paisley First, the town’s business organisation, also compared the closure of M&S to the recent closure of the museum and town hall, saying the loss of the store will be “felt deeply”.
Colette Cardosi, chair of Paisley First, said: ”Marks and Spencer has had a home on Paisley’s High Street since November 1931 and has been at the centre of our town’s community ever since.
“The loss of this store from the heart of the town centre to the outskirts will be felt deeply by both our local communities and neighbouring businesses.
“We are sad to be losing our friends and colleagues to the Wallneuk development which brings visitors to the area and out again via a one way system which completely bypasses the town centre.
“The local business community has pulled together to try to weather the Covid-19 crisis during a time when the closure of the town’s museum and town hall was already having an impact on footfall.”
It’s understood staff were informed of the changes on Friday, and were told the Wallneuk food hall is set to be open in time for Christmas.
Bosses at M&S say the new food hall will be 30 per cent larger than the current site, with all members of staff transferred to the new store and its other Renfrewshire site in intu Braehead.
M&S bosses have said the plans for the retail park site, which were rubber stamped by Renfrewshire Council last year, will be a “significant investment” to the local area.
However Councillor Kenny Maclaren, who objected the proposals for the Wallneuk site as he did not want to take business from the town centre, says his fears have been realised.
The SNP councillor says the new site will drive people away from the town centre, while also causing issues of accessibility for those who rely on public transport.
The Paisley Northwest councillor said: “It was myself, Councillor Mags Maclaren and councillor Stephen Burns who objected to the Wallneuk site going ahead as we feared that this would happen.
“This is a big loss for Paisley town centre and the shops on the High Street will suffer for it.
“Moving it to Wallneuk retail park will detract away from the town centre and it will cause accessibility issues for people, in particular elderly people who rely on public transport.
“It is costly for people to rely on taxi’s to get to the other store in Braehead if they are not looking to buy food, and it is not as easy to get to the retail park by public transport.”
Renfrewshire MSPs and MPs have also called on Marks and Spencer to reconsider their plans, with both Mhairi Black MP and George Adam MSP writing to them following the announcement.
MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South Mhairi Black said: “I was disappointed to hear that M&S have decided to close the outlet store on Paisley High Street. As one of the last major retailers in the town centre the M&S store is always busy, and this will be a huge blow for our high street.
“I have written to M&S to ask them to reconsider closing this particular store and also to ask for their reassurance that this move will not result in any job losses.”
George Adam called for M&S to keep both units open and boost jobs in Renfrewshire.
The Paisley MSP said: “Job retention is a must here and we have an opportunity to actually bring more jobs into Paisley if the outlet store is kept in conjunction with the food hall – this is what I will be pushing for and I am hopeful it is something the regional directors will take on board.”
Following the announcement on Friday, an M&S spokeswoman said: “We are excited about the expansion which represents a significant investment in the local area of Paisley.
“We understand that some people will be disappointed by this news, but this will provide the best possible future for M&S in Paisley.
“The current store will remain open until plans on the food hall are completed and we will keep the community updated on the plans for this.”b