Locals have expressed concern that plans for a flagship M&S store on the outskirts of Limerick city will be devastating for the city centre
Limerick businesses have voiced concern that plans for a new Marks & Spencer flagship store on the outskirts of the city will bury hopes for a revitalisation of the city centre. M&S plans on building a €150 million store on the Parkway Valley site on the Dublin Road. The announcement, made last week by the retailer, was initially dampened by claims of planning permission obstacles but reports this week have put these to bed.
Belfast based and Indian born developer Suneil Sharma has some three and a half years left to build the mammoth shopping centre within the current confines of the planning application, approved by Limerick County Council. Now, after the announcement by M&S that they have signed up to the development in principle, subject to planning, there is more impetus than ever to raise this “skeleton of metal” from the ground.
“I think it’s going to be a major blow and crisis for the city,” said Limerick Councillor Michael Sheahan, “but if it’s a fait accompli, then we have to accept it.” In the face of retail strategies asserting Limerick city’s top tier importance in the Mid-West, and countless visionary reports such as Limerick 2030, “officials have been left with egg on their face”, he said.
David O’Brien, manager of the Milk Market in the centre of Limerick, said “the city is dead as it is, this will bury it and put the final nail in the coffin. The city’s supremos have to fight this. Marks & Spencer is a fantastic brand, but if they don’t come in to the city centre they should be discouraged.
“Equally, it’s interesting that the story was announced the same day they closed four other stores around the country. Are strings being pulled? Are we being used as puppets, in the sense of, ‘here’s the good story, here’s the bad story’, and maybe nothing is going to happen here. Maybe this is just another one of those nudges.”
Former Mayor of Limerick, independent councillor John Gilligan, is also nervous about wholeheartedly welcoming any jobs boost created by the centre – up to 1,000 according to Mr Sharma – due to the potential displacement of jobs in the city. The continued focus and hype surrounding the British store is detracting from many real issues that need to be addressed, he believes. “Retail isn’t the be all and end all. What we need is more jobs for people in the city, so that they have the disposable income to live in the city and spend in the city,” he said.
“Marks & Spencer could stabilise the city centre, and we shouldn’t give up hope that this could happen down the line. There is a long way to go yet before Marks & Spencer move in anywhere.” Retail Excellence Ireland says it doesn’t believe Marks & Spencer is aware of the opportunities available to it in Limerick city centre. Chief executive David Fitzsimons said he believes the significant plans to revive the city centre, including the much-awaited and long heralded redevelopment of the Arthur’s Quay shopping centre, will provide adequate space for retailers requiring a large retail footprint. “I know fundamentally that they (M&S) haven’t been offered a deal with regard to the city centre. Within the next two months there will be an investment strategy launched within Limerick by the town team that will outline to potential retail and hospitality investors the vision for the city, the opportunity within the city, and also the incentive to come to the city, and that hasn’t been documented yet. I don’t believe anything as of yet has been presented to Marks & Spencer.”