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North Somerset defends shopping centre purchase

North Somerset Council has defended its decision to buy a shopping centre after retail giant Marks and Spencer announced its local store is earmarked for closure.

Marks and Spencer revealed earlier this week that it is proposing to close 17 stores around the country, as part of a reorganisation plan, including its town centre branch in Weston-super-mare.

The branch is on Weston High Street, but is also accessible through the Sovereign Shopping Centre.

In August, New Start reported that North Somerset Council had joined forces with Legal and General to buy the shopping centre.

At the time, the local authority said the deal would generate an income of £1m a year which will be put back into vital local public services.

Responding to the latest announcement by the retail chain, North Somerset Council said in a statement it was ‘fully aware’ of the possibility that Marks and Spencer might close their Weston High Street store when it made its decision to purchase the Sovereign Centre.

‘Buying the Sovereign Centre is a key element of our on-going strategy of investment in Weston town centre,’ the statement adds.

‘Having the shopping centre in the council’s ownership ensures that the wider regeneration and prosperity of the town feature heavily in plans for its future.’

The statement adds the shopping centre is a ‘sound investment and will continue to generate valuable income to deliver council services’.

‘We are committed to continuing to seek to invest in Weston’s town centre with a number of public realm improvements already delivered, and many more in the pipeline including better street layouts, public spaces and pedestrian facilities, as well as the public transport hub planned for Alexandra Parade, all designed to attract more people to spend time in the town centre,’ it adds.

‘We are also looking to submit a bid to the Government’s Future High Streets Fund for one of North Somerset’s high streets and Weston-super-Mare will be considered.

‘Shopping habits are starting to change, as shoppers are looking more towards a visitor experience than a purely retail one. As retail starts to move away from a homogenous high street, more variety is starting to emerge. Independent shops in the town centre have reported a 12 per cent increase in trade over the Christmas period compared with the same time last year.’

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