How could M&S search for new food store affect Ipswich town centre?

A file picture of the Copdock Mill interchange. The Toys R Us store (right) could not be turned into

A file picture of the Copdock Mill interchange. The Toys R Us store (right) could not be turned into a food store because Tescos Superstore (left) has a covenant preventing other supermarkets on the site. Picture: OWEN HINES/ARCHANT

Fears are growing about the long-term future of Marks and Spencer in Ipswich town centre after it emerged that the company has been looking for a site on the edge of the town to open a new food store.

A new use is still be sought for Toys R Us at Copdock. Picture: ARCHANT

A new use is still be sought for Toys R Us at Copdock. Picture: ARCHANT

The company is understood to have enquired about the possibility of taking over the former Toys R Us store at the Interchange Retail Park at Copdock Mill.

However while there would be no planning objections to such a move, Tesco – which operates the superstore on the retail park – has a covenant preventing the opening of any other large-scale food store on the same park.

It is understood that Marks and Spencer may now be looking for another site to the west of the town although nowhere has yet been identified – it already has a food store at Martlesham Heath. People can buy clothes online and “click and collect” them from food stores.

A spokesman for the company said it was always looking for new business opportunities, but it had no current plans to open any further branches in the Ipswich area.

The news that the company is looking for potential out-of-town sites has sparked fears for the future of the store’s Westgate Street branch in Ipswich town centre.

It has recently closed its store in Northampton town centre and its store in the heart of Bedford is due to close. In both cases new food stores have opened at retail parks near the towns.

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The Clacton branch of the store closed in November and was replaced by a new food store at Walton-on-the-Naze.

Ipswich Central chief executive Paul Clement said it was well known that Marks and Spencer was switching its attention towards out-of-town stores. It was also well-known that it was currently in the process of reducing the number of town centre stores.

But he added: “I don’t think the Ipswich Marks and Spencer is any more or less at risk than any other store in the town centre.

“But as I said recently, towns all over the country are facing real challenges and there will be major changes in Ipswich and everywhere else for that matter.”

Marks and Spencer’s grip on the clothing market has fallen significantly over recent years – but demand for its food has made this an increasingly important part of its business.

What may happen to the former Toys R Us site at Ipswich’s Copdock Mill?

A spokesman for Babergh council said there had been a number of enquiries from potential users of the former Toys R Us store since it closed last year – but none had so far resulted in a planning application.

The council would not discuss whether there were any ongoing discussions with possible users because until they were formally lodged with the authority they were considered confidential.

One proposal that is believed to be under discussion is to turn the building into a gym and fitness centre – there have also been discussions about building a McDonald’s takeaway on part of the site.

However there is already a Burger King on that side of the retail park – and that part of the development does not attract as much passing customers as some other sections of the large park.

That part of the site is currently sealed off so people can only access it through arrangement with relevant property agents.

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