M&S departure could cast a light on forgotten part of city center

Marks & Spencer has confirmed it will be bringing to a close an almost 100 year stay on Church Street in Liverpool City Center.

Yesterday the retailer shared the news it will be leaving Grade II listed Compton House to move to a new site at the former Debenhams department store in Liverpool ONE. All staff in the Church Street store are aware of the plans and will be given the opportunity to transfer to the new store on the corner of Lord Street.

Earlier this year it was announced another new venture would also be moving into the large Debenhams unit, which has sat empty since the chain’s closure in 2021. A £ 10m plan by Active Gravity Entertainment is already underway and will convert part of the former department store into a go-karting, bowling and indoor golf venue.

READ MORE:Challenges, opportunities and what comes next for Liverpool City Center

The Active Gravity leisure attraction is set to open in winter 2022. M&S is not set to move to its new site until mid-way 2023.

The departure of M&S will have come as an initial blow to the center of Liverpool’s main shopping district in Church Street which is beginning to show signs of recovery. But the wider picture for Church Street remains positive with footfall figures for the area returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Lush, Primark and Liverpool Central Station remain key drivers of footfall for Church Street, while the newly opened Decathlon and Flannels clothing store have moved to nearby Compton House.

The most significant changes could be in the future use of Compton House itself. As seen at the former Debenhams department store, high street trends are leaning towards more mixed use offer – rather relying solely on retail to fill vacant space.

M&S, which leases the building, has not confirmed what will happen once it moves next year. But in the building’s near 100 year history it has spent time as a hotel as well as being one of the first purpose built department stores in Europe.

Significant change is taking place along Church Street and Lord Street in Liverpool City Center
Significant change is taking place along Church Street and Lord Street in Liverpool City Center

One of the main changes brought about by M & S’s departure could take place at the rear of the building at Williamson Square. The square, adjoining St Johns shopping center, was once one of the main shopping areas in the city with a high and consistent footfall, but has suffered as attention turned to the other side of the city with the opening of Liverpool ONE in 2008.

Currently the M&S building on Church Street consists of a large but vacant retail unit which faces directly onto Williamson Square. It has not been in use for a number of years but is one of the key proponents for the Williamson Square Spatial Regeneration Framework (SRF) – originally signed off by the city council in 2020.

This document provided a range of recommendations to help attract new investment, celebrate the current music scene and to enable the council to steer the future use of existing buildings in the area – in turn improving its offer.

These ideas included implementing a re-design to include flexible performance space in the Square as well as refurbishing the St Johns extension and enhancing the presence of the Playhouse theater. One of the other aims is to “activate the façade of the vacant Marks & Spencer building” which has been the backdrop for public art exhibitions but has not had a long term use for a number of years.

The city council owns the freehold to Compton House and a council spokesperson has suggested it will be able to have a say on what replaces Marks & Spencer once its lease is up, in effect providing greater room to deliver the desired enhancements to Williamson Square in line with the SRF.

Additionally, a project with the aims of ‘refocusing’ Church Street is to launch soon, with Liverpool BID company developing the route between The Bluecoat on School Lane and Williamson Square – establishing a stronger and more supportive connection between the two retail areas.


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