New occupants for former Marks and Spencer store confirmed
Unless you’ve been outside the solar system or cooped up in Chipping Norton for the last year, Ashton-under-Lyne’s branch of Marks and Spencer moved to an out-of-town unit on Ashton Moss this January. Though attracting much ire among Tameside MBC and shoppers, M&S outgrew their late 1960s unit which they deemed insufficient for their needs. Though it attracted good footfall, its small size stymied continued development of the store, including the addition of a coffee shop – de rigeur in most branches of M&S nowadays.
For most of this year, the unit has been empty with asbestos holding back swift occupancy. There have been rumours about this unit becoming a Primark. East of the M60 thought it could have been a future unit for Wilkinson if the TAC building was demolished. Or another pound shop, a new M Local store. Or another betting shop.
The second prediction was almost true.
Revealed in this week’s Tameside Advertiser, the new occupants of the former M&S will be Discount UK and Poundworld. On reading the previous sentence, you could be forgiven for thinking that the store would be subdivided as two separate units. Or that Discount UK and Poundworld are separate companies.
Poundworld and Discount UK are both owned by the same company based in Normanton, West Yorkshire as going concerns. The former business requires little explanation, other than the fact they already have a unit on Staveleigh Way. The latter, well, pretty similar to the late F.W. Woolworth chain, Home Bargains and Wilkinson. Something which is consistent with the present retail mix in Ashton-under-Lyne: cheap and cheerful thanks to the borough’s historically low wage levels. Ashton was, and is, pretty much a Woolworths type of town. Suffice to say, the loss of their branch in the Arcades Shopping Centre did see a loss of footfall to the town.
Therefore, Poundworld will move in to the former M&S unit along with Discount UK. Some branches have the Poundworld branch at the back of the store or on another floor to Discount UK. The latter option is true of Tameside’s only branch of Discount UK on the Crown Point North retail park, Denton.
The news was met with disappointment by David Heyes MP [Labour, Ashton-under-Lyne] and Dukinfield Labour councillor John Taylor. Both felt the arrival of the discount chain would raise concerns about the future of Ashton-under-Lyne as a major shopping destination. At present, it is the only sub-regional town centre in Greater Manchester without a prestigious town centre department store. On Stamford Street, former department store units play host to charity shops and a branch of Cash Converters.
As well as reduced incomes in the borough, the size of Ashton’s former department stores constrain development inside the town centre. Hence Mothercare and BHS favouring Crown Point North over Ashton-under-Lyne. Could a future extension to the Arcades Shopping solve this, coupled with plans for a sleeker version of Ashton-under-Lyne bus station? In a Tameside MBC report at the time of Marks and Spencer’s move to Ashton Moss, it stated that “Ashton has a weakness in providing retail premises that meet the needs of modern retailers.”
Hence the lack of department stores in Ashton. Out of town retail parks have made for bigger units at lower prices than town centre rents per square foot. Drivers have followed the retailers to the units too. Perhaps it is the constricting size of, and the need for imaginative development of the Ladysmith Shopping Centre. Perhaps another level is needed, or that the 1967 vintage shopping centre has served its purpose and needs a blank canvas.
The piecemeal approach to the two precincts (unlike Oldham where Town Square and Spindles seamlessly segues) could be down to one thing, as well as being less able to meet the bigger stores needed. Most of Ashton’s shops are owned by private landlords or property companies. The Arcades Shopping Centre is owned by Apollo Ashton LP, a subsidiary of Capita Nominee Services based in St. Helier, Jersey. Richard Lucas Property Consultants, based in Manchester, manage the Ladysmith Shopping Centre.
‘Better Than An Empty Shop’
Though Mr Heyes MP stated the above phrase in sanguine terms, he added that ‘the town centre is now home to a Pound Bakery and Sandwich Pound – as well as discount stores like Home Bargains and B&M Stores’. As a shopper, I have noticed how Ashton’s transition to becoming a Land of a Thousand Pound Shops was far from a recent phenomenon. Though some towns have rarely seen a discount store till the 2008 Global Financial Downturn, Ashton-under-Lyne has had discount stores since the 1980s.
This has included Fullmonte, It’s Incredible, Just Wot U Need, Music Zone and Superpound. Not only non-food items, but also frozen goods, for instance with Snow City before Heron bought them out. Some of them began on market stalls, and probably worked on Ashton market. Like Marks and Spencer and Wm. Morrison did over a century ago. The former as a single price retailer – the Penny Bazaar.
Today, most of the town’s discount stores are discount chains with a sound regional profile. Pound Bakery, still owned by the Sayers group as was Hampsons and Burneys before then is a striking example, along with Home Bargains. B&M Bargains is competing for a similar slice of the market to Wilkinson and Ashton’s forthcoming arrival. However, they have Sir Terry Leahy at the helm, an Everton fan whose previous role was the head of TESCO. All three companies are based in the North West of England.
As to whether Ashton, in the words of John Taylor has ‘got enough of these “bargain basement” shops’ is down to the shoppers and whoever may be managing the units. However, he is right in saying we need to ‘increase what’s there now… by bringing more well known retailers into Ashton’, so long as there remains a suitable balance between chain stores and independent retailers. Again, much as I would like to see a Debenhams or a Primark in Ashton-under-Lyne, locals’ wallet permitting is the main deciding factor.
Which brings us down to one question: is Ashton-under-Lyne Greater Manchester’s fourth most visited shopping centre due to its market, good cafés or plethora of discount stores? Would another Marks and Spencer type store draw people into, or back to Ashton?
Perhaps the gamble remains with Apollo Ashton LP as to whether they will extend and/or refurbish the Arcades Shopping Centre. This would be consistent with Transport for Greater Manchester’s plans for an Ashton Bus Station Mark IV which would offer better transfer with train and tram to bus.
Is Discount UK’s move into the former M&S store a suitable fit for Ashton? Would you like to see more prestigious stores in Ashton-under-Lyne, or is the present retail mix just about right? Feel free to comment.
S.V., 04 October 2013.