SHOPPERS, politicians and campaigners alike fear the proposed closure of Barrow’s M&S will sound the death knell for the town centre.

Marks & Spencer confirmed yesterday that the Dalton Road store was being earmarked for closure with the loss of 57 jobs.

Lisa Rogers, M&S head of region for Lancashire and Cumbria, said: “The decision to propose our store in Barrow-in-Furness for closure was a difficult one to make.

“We have a great team at Barrow and we’ll be talking to them on an individual basis about what is best for them.

“We remain committed to serving customers in Cumbria and later this year we’ll be opening a new Foodhall in Ulverston, which will also offer Clothing & Home products via Click & Collect.”

Although the news at least shows the retailer’s commitment to the foodhall set to be opened in Ulverston this Autumn at the Beehive it will be little consolation to those at risk of losing their jobs and the shoppers, particularly of the elder generation.

For those involved with Barrow’s Business Improvement District, which is tasked with boosting the town centre and is chaired by M&S store manager Simon Craig, the news is a huge blow.

Colin Garnett from the BID said: “M&S are one of the ‘big three’ stores in Barrow town centre, so its proposed closure is going to have a detrimental effect on the town.

“M&S attracts a large footfall into the town and its positioning on Dalton Road supports surrounding businesses by providing a reason for people to visit that area of town.

“Scott Street has recently seen new businesses move into the area and we hope that this proposed closure will not have a negative impact on the smaller independents who retail in this part of town.

“Simon Craig, store manager at M&S, is also the chair of Barrow BID and has assured me that he will continue to work on the regeneration of Barrow town centre.

“If Barrow is to lose its M&S store, Simon will assist Barrow BID to promote the current store premises and the town to potential investors and focus on bringing in new retailers to the town.”

Yesterday’s news was announced to audible gasps from councillors at a meeting of the Barrow Local Committee in the town hall on Tuesday morning.

Councillors had been discussing Barrow’s rising debt crisis debt when the announcement broke from Cllr Frank Cassidy, who works in the office of Barrow’s MP, John Woodcock.

Cllr Cassidy told the meeting: “I have just come from the MP's office. The signals we have had recently from Marks and Spencer is the situation wasn’t too bad, so this is a big shock.”

Cllr Anne Burns said the news was “horrendous” and could have far-reaching implications for a town like Barrow.

She said the manager of the store headed up the Barrow Business Improvement District which had been working hard to try and revive the town centre.

Cllr Burns told the meeting: “He has really worked hard to try and keep things together so this is a real devastating blow for Barrow.

“We’re also being told Debenhams is teetering on the brink and if that goes, we don’t really have anything left in the town centre really.

“You need those big anchors behind you to help attract other shops to Barrow and give people a reason to come into town to do their shopping.”

Cllr Burns suggested that efforts could be made to try and convince the store to rethink its decision.

“We were told it was one of the best with the footfall really good,” she said.

Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock vowed to speak to M&S bosses to attempt to convince them to change their minds.

“Marks and Spencer has long been a bedrock for Dalton Road and relied on by thousands so this consultation is a terrible blow for the town centre,” the MP said.

“I really feel for the staff set to lose their jobs - if the closure does go ahead they must be given support by the company at this difficult time. But I want to explore every possible avenue to make the company change its mind and will be speaking to national management and local staff later.”

Since last year when M&S first announced it was planning to close a number of high street stores many in Barrow have suspected the Dalton Road outlet was likely to be a victim of the downsizing. The store has had a long history in Barrow having first opened as a Penny Bazaar in 1911.