Marks and Spencer has refused to confirm it will be opening a food store at Morecambe’s planned £17m Bay Shopping Park throwing doubt on the whole scheme.
Planning permission was granted for the Bay Shopping Park in November 2014 but so far Premier Inn have pulled out of a deal to build a hotel on the site, and B&M stores and TK Maxx, who were in talks with developers Opus North in 2015, have failed to sign up.
Now Marks and Spencer have released a statement which said: “We are changing the way we assess the financial returns for future stores. We will only proceed with those we believe will deliver the highest returns.
“We will update on Morecambe when the time is right to do so.”
B&M, who have stores in Morecambe and Lancaster selling homeware, toys and food, said they were ‘unaware of the site at the moment’.
A spokesman for B&M said: “We’re always looking at sites for new stores and would welcome the opportunity to invest in the region.
“As a growing business with more than 500 stores nationwide we are always looking to expand further; providing great value products and world class service to even more customers every week as well as playing an integral part in the local community.”
In July 2015, Opus North confirmed they had been in talks with B&M Bargains and TK Maxx but neither business had signed up.
Premier Inn and Brewers Fayre, who were due to a build a hotel and restaurant on the site of the former Ranch House pub which was demolished in September 2016 months after arsonists almost burnt it to the ground, pulled out of the deal last year.
Morecambe’s 168 foot Polo Tower was demolished in June 2017 and sent for scrap.
A spokesman for Lancaster City Council said: “Opus have not made a material start on site.
“However the developer has a number of different permissions it could implement.
“For example, it sought to vary planning conditions on the scheme in 2016, and has three years from the date of that permission to implement the scheme.”
MP David Morris said: “This is unhelpful speculation whilst discussions with potential retail occupiers are ongoing.
“Given the commercial sensitives, I cannot comment further on specific contracts, but I remain engaged with the developers and committed to supporting a favourable outcome to the ongoing negotiations.”
Councillor Darren Clifford, Cabinet Member for Leisure, Culture, Tourism & Climate Change and chairman of Morecambe Town Council, said: “If your conclusions are true or Morrison’s confirm that we’re no longer being considered as a site for Mark’s and Spencer then that’s very disappointing, but as you know myself and many other colleagues have been realistic about this development from day one.
“Opus (the delivery vehicle for Morrison’s) were very ambitious and have obviously found out the hard way that a retail development in this climate isn’t as easy as they thought.
“Even if they give up on the retail park I won’t be giving up on the site.
“We’ve waited long enough, maybe there can be other options brought forward that are more interesting for them and the wider public, I’d very much welcome that.”
In December 2016, Opus North reassured residents they were fully committed to building a new Bay Shopping Park at the ex-Frontierland site.
A spokesman for Opus North said at the time: “The Morecambe community has been patient and we appreciate this and understand how eagerly everyone awaits a start on site. We remain entirely committed to delivering on the Bay Shopping Park vision and we have moved another step closer to beginning work.
“Agreeing terms with retail occupiers is never straightforward and every location brings specific challenges,” said the spokesman.