#saveourtown say the owners of The Mall must shoulder some of the blame for the threat to jobs from Marks & Spencer pulling out of Luton.

#saveourtown members during a public engagement event outside The Mall, Luton

#saveourtown members during a public engagement event outside The Mall, Luton

The food retailer confirmed last week that Saturday May 4 will be its final trading day in the town, with 77 jobs expected to be lost.

The closure is one of 17 proposed by M&S across the country – including one in Bedford’s Harper Shopping Centre – as part of their five-year plan to shut more than 100 stores by 2022. They plan to move a third of their sales online and have fewer stores in better locations.

Earlier this month, one of The Mall’s other major retailers, Debenhams, announced it too is considering closing 20 of its UK department stores and this has concerned the #saveourtown group, which is campaigning for the approval of Luton Town Football Club’s (2020 Developments) planning application for Newlands Park, having already seen approval granted for Power Court.

Capital & Regional, the owners of The Mall are strongly opposing the Newlands Park planning application, which goes before Luton Borough Council’s Development Control Committee on March 11.

#saveourtown vice chairman Andy King, said: “It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Capital & Regional’s department for misinformation spin a national issue into a fairytale about Newlands Park forcing M&S out of town.

“Newlands Park hasn’t even been given planning permission yet, much less been built, so that would be straw-clutching nonsense. Instead, if Capital & Regional’s top brass care to look in any reflective surface at their headquarters it will reveal the real culprits.

“But, first and foremost we, as Lutonians, are deeply saddened for M&S employees that will lose their jobs. These are real people with real lives.”

A new petition which has been launched by Lutonian Calista Strange, urging Marks and Spencer PLC to reconsider their decision to close the Luton store. It states, ‘we are also concerned for the employees who work there and the impact on the local economy should it close.’ Sign the petition to Save M&S Luton.

Last year, Capital & Regional CEO, Lawrence Hutchings, said, in an interview with BBC Three Counties, that his company “won’t stop defending the 2,500 jobs and people’s livelihoods that exist in the town centre”.

King added: “HMV, Maplin and other retailers have all left The Mall. M&S will follow and there’s concern that Debenhams may go too. Quite frankly, if Luton Town Football Club defended as badly as Capital & Regional they’d be back in the non-league.

“A town the size of Luton should be able to attract and sustain major retailers. The fact that The Mall cannot is down to the desirability and affordability of the centre they run.”

In #saveourtown’s latest ‘Do It For The Kids’ video series– giving children a voice in the decisions about their future – Luton Borough Council Leader Cllr Simmons said: “I think we, as a country, will have to think about what we want from shops and shopping malls.

“For me, there’s not much in The Mall at all, to go and shop for clothes now. That’s why Newlands Park is really good, because that will bring different shops, that will encourage you to go and shop.”

Last month, Capital & Regional announced a drop in the value of its properties outside London of more than 10 per cent in the second half of 2018.

King said: “This is indicative of what we’ve experienced in Luton, but it highlights that Capital & Regional have failed to respond, in any meaningful way, to the changing environment, everywhere else too.

“In our town, it is hardly a surprise because they have monopolised retail to such an extent that they have become complacent by failing miserably to make The Mall an attractive place for shoppers and retailers alike.

“Their lack of interest in progress is evident, not just in the fact that M&S are pulling out, but the amount of time and effort they’ve wasted attempting to scupper once-in-a-lifetime plans to improve Luton through Newlands Park, a stance which is totally at odds with the views of the Lutonians they claim to care about.

“Without their objections – which have dragged the planning process out for two-and-a-half years – Newlands Park and, indeed, Power Court could be well on the way to being built, if not already operational.

“We’ll never know if the footfall they will provide could have helped keep M&S in The Mall, but it would have been a damn sight better than the years of stagnation and decline.

“Why else, when it comes to selecting stores for closure, do The Mall’s big tenants all choose Luton over other, smaller towns? High on the list must be profitability and footfall, while we understand rents are particularly high too.

“And if Debenhams also decides to close some of its stores, what are the chances, they too will choose Luton? The common denominator in this is Capital & Regional.

“We believe that their long campaign of smoke and mirrors, where Luton matters are concerned, merely masks their fury that a football club has not only beaten them to the punch in identifying the transforming nature of town centres and the growing importance of leisure experiences, but devised a way to deliver real change for Lutonians that won’t hit people in the pocket. Quite the opposite in fact, as Newlands Park and Power Court will provide 10,000 new jobs, boost the local economy by £250million a year and give the whole community a range of exciting facilities.

“Newlands Park and Power Court are popular plans for many reasons, one of which is that the people responsible for them care so evidently about our community in ways that Capital & Regional couldn’t possibly conceive, because they’ve gotten fat from a decade of treating Luton as a cash cow for their shareholders.”