MARKS & Spencer has abandoned plans to open a huge new Oxford store amid fears for the city's retail parks.

The Oxford Mail has learnt that the high street giant will no longer open a food hall at Seacourt Tower, off the Botley Road, casting the future of the area's redevelopment into doubt.

Homebase last week confirmed plans to close its store on the site and there are now no tenants announced to fill the giant space.

The blow comes after two chains bowed out of the area in the last few months, leaving increasingly visible gaps in the area's shopping scene.

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Retail experts have said Oxfordshire may be close to reaching a peak in demand for shops, with more and more competition for the limited amount of money customers have to spend.

Oxford Mail:

Oxfordshire Town Chambers Network director Keith Slater said: "Botley is well-positioned, has a good range of shops and is easy to access but it has to reinvent itself in order to survive.

"Traditional retail park brands are struggling and the trend is towards high street names moving in but Oxford is different, given the number of new developments.

Oxford Mail: Retail expert Keith Slater in Cornmarket Street in Oxford. Picture Andrew Walmsley

"My big worry is how much more money is now needed to go around.

"I think Westgate alone needs to make £360million a year to be a success, based on the sheer size of it.

"That is an awful lot of extra money and there comes a point where it has to come at the expense of its neighbours.

"If anything customers are spending less in general so where is all this extra money going to come from?"

M&S were seen as the flagship store of the second part of the redevelopment and were expected to fill three units, with the promotional brochure for Seacourt stating the unit as 'under offer' to the company.

The brand was listed as the 'intended occupier' when planing permission was granted in December but shortly afterwards announced it was re-assessing its entire food hall opening plan.

Since then it has refused to say either way whether Seacourt was still on its agenda until finally confirming the store is no longer part of its plans.

An M&S spokesperson said: “We’re committed to transforming M&S for our customers and making sure we have the right offer in the right locations.

"Last year we announced the reassessment and reduction of our Simply Food opening programme, as part of this we are no longer considering a store in Seacourt Tower Retail Park.

"We remain committed to serving customers through our city centre store and other locations across Oxford."

Developer Morgan Williams has used M&S' involvement in the scheme to market the proposition to more potential tenants.

When asked what the decision now means for the park, the developer refused to comment.

Earlier this year a petrol station was bulldozed to make way for a Costa Coffee drive-through, which is now open, and a large new car park.

Oxford Mail:

A spokesman for Homebase said the timetable for closure of its store has not been confirmed but it is likely to be late 2018 or early 2019, leaving another gaping hole.

Nearby both the old Toys 'R' Us and Maplin shops have shut, with Mothercare in Cowley set to follow next month.

At the same time, work is continuing on building another shopping centre down the road at West Way, offering a further 14,000 sq ft of shops, restaurants and cafes.

Mr Slater said: "This didn't seem like the right location for M&S, they are taking a long look at their business and I think they would have struggled there.

"Food halls can work very well in retail parks but they have to have the right mix of shops around them.

"I would think the Homebase would be very difficult to replace - it is a very big space."

Oxford Mail:

Councillor Debby Hallett said the M&S decision was 'disappointing'.

She added: "Botley is a mess right now, and will be until the redevelopments are complete.

"The highlight recently is that Costa looks to be open. But I wonder every day what all those cars are doing parked nearby?

"Now, the Homebase closure will only mean more job losses.

"The nature of retail shopping has changed, in my opinion, irrevocably. "The strategic visionaries who can imagine functions of former high streets that go beyond chains of retail and pubs may be able to reinvent our service centres. But I don’t have the answer."

There was a mixed reaction to the news among customers and local businesses.

Oxford Mail:

Andy Brock, who runs AJ Brock Butchers in Elms Parade, said: "They are obviously a competitor but a name like that would bring people to this area which, you would hope, would have an impact on footfall for all of us."

Ronald Chesterton, who lives in Woodstock, said: "The Homebase closure is sad but not very surprising. It has become very scruffy and has fallen behind but there's not much else like it around.

"We do travel to the M&S in Summertown regularly so may have dropped in occasionally but I can't imagine we would have used it very regularly."