Crest Nicholson dropped the bombshell that M&S has axed its planned Simply Food store at Brightwells on Wednesday after months of speculation over M&S’ role in the troubled development.
The Herald was told by Crest construction chiefs in August last year that after almost 20 years of delays, Brightwells would enjoy a ‘Big Bang’ opening in spring 2022.
However, this failed to materialise amid materials and staff shortages, and the Herald understands M&S activated a clause in its contract allowing it to withdraw from the development if the scheme was further delayed.
An M&S spokesperson said: “We have announced that we will not be continuing with plans to open an M&S Foodhall in Farnham.
“We brought our plans forward a number of years ago and unfortunately the process has been very long and delayed several times.
“Given this time lag and changing customer habits, this site is no longer the best way to serve customers in the area.
“As well as our nearby M&S Foodhall in Fleet, local customers can also continue to shop our full range of products at our M&S Camberley store in the Meadows retail park.”
M&S has long been one of just three commercial partners signed up for Brightwells, alongside Reel Cinemas and Seasalt, and was intended to be the scheme’s ‘anchor tenant’, designed to draw shoppers into the development.
Its withdrawal therefore casts a long shadow over the mixed-used redevelopment on land south of East Street, which objectors have long warned could become a white elephant given the testing retail climate.
Crest Nicholson said in a statement on Wednesday: “A decision made by Marks and Spencer means that the retailer will no longer be proceeding at Brightwells Yard.
“The issue is not isolated to Farnham but is linked to the increased cost of living, a shift in focus towards out-of-town opportunities, and associated Marks and Spencer store closures across the country, with 32 of the chain’s stores now due to close over the next three years.
“Marks and Spencer’s new national business strategy focuses on increasing the number of modern ‘edge of town’ locations with larger stores and free, dedicated parking which was not possible at Brightwells Yard.
“Crest Nicholson is committed to the long-term investment in Farnham as part of Brightwells Yard and is working on securing alternative tenants.
“The wider scheme now has ten units in solicitors’ hands, three at heads of terms, and a further five in advanced negotiations.
“In addition, the scheme has further potential occupiers wanting to visit site and evaluating the exciting opportunity at Brightwells Yard. We will keep the community updated as this work progresses.”