TOWN chiefs have warned it would be a "grave mistake" for a major retailer to leave Andover after meeting with representatives today.

Leader of Test Valley Borough Council, Councillor Phil North, and MP for North West Hampshire, Kit Malthouse, met with Marks & Spencer's representatives to ask the retailer to reconsider the proposed closure of its Andover branch.

The pair said they had a long and, at times, 'heated meeting' with M&S representatives at the House of Commons today.

Cllr North and Mr Malthouse expressed their concerns they felt that M&S had not taken sufficient account of both present and predicted growth and emphasised the value that residents have placed on the store's presence in the High Street.

According to the pair, M&S stated the Andover store was underperforming on the clothes and home ranges, but agreed its food section was doing well and it conceded there was some force in arguments the store had suffered from underinvestment in the past and that the clothing lines, in particular, were not as attractive as in some other M&S stores.

The major British brand also confirmed to the Cllr North and Mr Malthouse it is keen to have a Simply Food presence in Andover, but were adamant their existing premises were not fit for that purpose.

Cllr North said: “I was not convinced by M&S’ arguments.

"They could be used to justify closing almost any high street store.

"Their food sales are clearly thriving in Andover, so it is no surprise that they want to open a Simply Food with a Click and Collect facility for clothing.

"That is the very least that we must achieve from this, and I and the council will do everything we can to ensure a continued M&S presence in Andover.

"The current and future investments in Andover town centre through the Town Mills Riverside Project, the Cultural Quarter and the Leisure Centre, as well as our aims for the redevelopment of the Chantry Centre, demonstrate a real ambition for the future of the whole town, and especially the town centre.”

The duo also handed over the petition organised by Councillors Iris Andersen and John Cockaday, which has already gathered nearly 3,700 signatures.

M&S also agreed it would work with the council in their search for the right site.

Mr Malthouse said: “I am incredibly disappointed M&S have only now entered into a dialogue with us. 

"I am delighted their food sales are doing so well and not surprised that their clothing sales are down, as they simply don’t stock the optimal lines.

"I propose to write again to M&S chairman, Archie Norman, urging him to re-consider and, come what may, to take swift action about their food offer in Andover.”

Cllr North and Mr Malthouse have confirmed they will be arranging a meeting with the director of Retail at M&S, Sacha Berendji, later this month to continue to press the case.

The Advertiser has approached M&S for comment.

More to follow.