M&S hotly tipped to open food hall in Downpatrick... as we reported in 2017

M&S hotly tipped to open food hall in Downpatrick... as we reported in 2017

6 October 2021

NEWS that Marks and Spencer has identified Downpatrick as a potential base for a new food store comes over four years after the Down Recorder first broke the story.

In March 2017, the paper revealed that M&S could be the latest big name arrival in the town and that the High Street retailer had examined a number of potential sites.

These included the former Danske bank premises in Market Street, but M&S subsequently turned its attention to the former Irish Street police station which is to be redeveloped as part of a major town centre regeneration initiative.

In a document published by CBRE, M&S has confirmed that it is now seeking out-of-town or edge of town sites to set up food stores of at least 15,000 sq ft.

Downpatrick is one of seven towns where the leading retailer would like to open new stores, with the others including Antrim, Armagh, Dungannon, Magherafelt, Newtownards and Carrickfergus.

The towns are among a long list of areas across the UK where M&S believes there is a market for its hugely popular food offering.

The company said that it wants “prominent sites” on major roads with dedicated parking, adding that it will also consider moving into existing retail units.

Currently, the nearest Marks and Spencer stores are at the Sprucefield retail park outside Lisburn and the Forestside complex in south Belfast, with the company’s arrival in Downpatrick viewed as a major vote of confidence in the town.

Local politicians say they are pleased that M&S has not only retained its interest in Downpatrick, but recognises that locating one of its food stores in the town would be a very successful move.

South Down MLA Colin McGrath, Baroness Margaret Ritchie and Downpatrick area councillors Dermot Curran and Gareth Sharvin hope that M&S’s plans will come to fruition.

“This type of food outlet has a following which would undoubtedly see people travelling to Downpatrick that previously would not have and that extra footfall can help other businesses in the town,” he said.

“I believe this is a good new story and an indication that Downpatrick is being noticed by retailers as a place to do business and that is also good sign for local people.”

Mr McGrath is encouraging M&S to aim for a location that is as close to the town centre as possible, suggesting the last thing local businesses need is displacement of footfall, confirming that he plans to raise this issue with store executives.

Lady Ritchie said that as part of the town’s ongoing economic regeneration “which needs to be driven by a town centre manager”, she is pleased that Marks and Spencer has identified seven sites in Northern Ireland for new food stores.   

“One of those sites is Downpatrick where the possible location of a food store has been talked about for several years,” she continued.

“I hope that such a new store comes to fruition and that M&S receive every assistance from Newry, Mourne and Down Council in identifying the best optimum site which will offer local people a wider food choice as well as helping to pump-prime economic and business regeneration in Downpatrick.”

Cllr Curran — who is seeking a meeting with M&S officials — said the fact that the retail giant’s interest in Downpatrick appeared to be as strong as it was four years ago was good news.

He continued: “Clearly, M&S has done its homework and sees major potential in opening a food store in the town which would significantly increase footfall and help provide a boost for existing businesses.

“A new food store would also create much-needed jobs and hopefully open the door to other big names to take their place alongside the independent and family-owned businesses that we currently have.”

He added: “Facing into a post-Covid world, the arrival of a major retailer in Downpatrick would provide everyone with a lift. More and more big names in the retail world investing in the town would illustrates their confidence in it and will help kick-start its future growth.

Cllr Sharvin, who announced the retail giant’s interest in the town last year when he was discussing the area with M&S management and letting agents, is urging local council officials to work with the company.

“M&S has been looking to find an ideal location within the Downpatrick area for some time and needs to be at least 10,000 square feet with a good volume of parking outside. This is a great opportunity to boost the local economy within Downpatrick and bring a large number of jobs to the area that are much-needed,” he said.

Cllr Sharvin has asked the council’s economic, regeneration and tourism department work with M&S and its agents in identifying a site that will meet the needs of the organisation and has also urge any commercial owners or developers to come forward to work with the organisation to start the process.

He added: “This is too big an opportunity to miss for our town and we must all work together to deliver this.”