marks-and-spencer-logoThe closure of Balham’s Marks and Spencer has left a lot of local residents puzzled about why M&S have decided to axe what is seemingly a busy and successful store.

And I’m puzzled too.  

We all know that the country is effectively in recession.  We know that businesses will be feeling the pinch.  But, as a whole, Balham has shown itself to be very resilient.

For a start, it’s a great location.  There are around 21,000 residents within half a mile of the town centre and it has great transport links, with an underground station and an overground station scheduled for improvements.

It’s also benefited from significant investment.  The council’s Town Centre Improvement Scheme has leveraged nearly £600,000 of private sector investment in the Town Centre and in the past 4 years 60 businesses have upgraded their premises or moved into or within the town centre.  

What’s more Balham has been bucking the trend:  footfall counters show an increase of 6% between December 2007 and December 2008, at a time that a national fall of 8% is being reported!  And there is significant anecdotal evidence that food sales for consumption at home are increasing as people eat out less as a result of recession.  If your main business if food sales, Balham would seem the place to be.

It is bizarre that M&S are leaving an area that a retailer, and a food retailer to boot, would surely be desperate to be in.  The council will be putting all these points to M&S to try and dissuade them from following through on their closure.

Marks and Spencer have announced that their Balham Simply Food store will be among those to close.  This is obviously not good news, either for Balham Town Centre or the employees who will be losing their jobs.

But it’s also a reminder that recession is not just about businesses going into administration and names disappearing totally, but employers cutting costs and jobs being lost.

Marks and Spencer will remain, for the time being, elsewhere in the Borough, but in Balham there is going to be a big hole in the high street.  I just hope at tonight’s Regeneration and Community Safety OSC meeting Labour don’t have the temerity to try blame the state of the pavements rather than their government’s economic failure.