A MAJOR retailer could be set to close in the town centre after 81 years of trading, putting 50 jobs at risk.

Marks and Spencer announced this morning that the High Street store is consulting with its employees on the proposed closure.

This could mean residents may have to travel as far as Winchester (16 miles away), Newbury (19 miles away) or Newbury Retail Park Simply Food (16 miles away).

It is part of Marks and Spencer's programme to modernise its UK store estate to better meet the changing needs of customers.

Sacha Berendji, director of retail at Marks & Spencer, said: “We’re committed to transforming M&S for our customers, colleagues and shareholders.

"Stores will always be an integral part of our customer experience, alongside M&S.com, but we have to ensure we have the right offer in the right locations.

“We don’t want any colleagues to leave M&S and we will work with each colleague individually on what is best for them as we endeavour to give everyone a role.

"However, we accept in some cases we may have to consider redundancy.

“We believe these changes are vital for the future of M&S and we will continue to accelerate the programme, taking tough but necessary decisions, as we focus on making M&S special.”

Aaron Spicer, head of region for Wessex, said: “Proposing to close the Andover store has been a difficult but necessary decision.

"Over the coming weeks we’ll be talking to each colleague individually about what is right for them and we’ll update customers and the community as soon as we can.”

Including Andover, M&S has today proposed eight stores for closure and announced that a further six will close by the end of April.

All of these stores offer Click & Collect for customers who purchase online at M&S.com.

Three quarters of M&S.com orders are now collected in a store.

M&S currently has 1,025 stores – 302 Clothing, Home and Food, 684 Food-only and 39 outlets.

Test Valley Borough Council's St Mary's ward representative, Councillor Iris Andersen, said: "This will be devastating to Andover's High Street if this store were to close down.

"It'll be a real loss to the Andover community.

"We need to try and retain the Andove store."