BEXHILL can look forward to having its own Marks and Spencer store, bringing with it 100 new jobs, by early 2014.
Rother planners yesterday voted 12-1 in favour of a bid by site owner Land Securities to demolish the existing Ocean Bowling facility at the Ravenside Leisure and Retail Park, Glyne Gap, and replace it with a three-storey, 33,594 square feet (3,121 sq m) retail space store.
The likely occupant is retail giant and household name Marks and Spencer, referred to throughout Land Securities’ application.
Consent is conditional on a Section 106 agreement to mitigate loss of the bowling alley - which last year attracted 97,530 visits; address traffic issues on the already congested A259 and trading impact on Bexhill town centre shops.
Committee members heard Bexhill and Battle Labour Party had objected to the plan. A total of 111 other objections had also been received and a 469-name petition had called for an alternative site to be found for bowling. One possibility is at the leisure centre at The Down, Bexhill.
The applicants’ own public consultation in June last year, based on Marks and Spencer coming to Bexhill, produced 827 responses for and 52 against. Bexhill Chamber of Commerce also backed the scheme as a means of helping to regenerate the town.
Councillors Sue Prochak, Sam Souster and Maurice Watson sought to have any decision deferred for a more robust indication of what was to become of Ocean Bowling and its 19 jobs, but Councillors Jimmy Carroll, Tony Ganly and Joy Hughes, the latter ex-officio, urged seizing the moment.
Councillor Ganly said the bowling facility was “clearly unviable” and would almost certainly close anyway if its subsidised rent was raised to the going rate.
After the 12noon decision to grant full planning permission to Land Securities, its portfolio director Hermione Mackrill said: “This is very welcome news. A large majority of people clearly want Marks and Spencer in their town.
“We are aiming to open the new store by early 2014.”
• This week, Marks and Spencer, founded 128 years ago, posted its first fall in full-year profits since 2009, forcing it to scale back plans to grow sales by up to £2.5 billion. Financial observers say it could mean chief executive Marc Bolland having to rein in store expansion.