CONFIRMATION that Marks & Spencer plans to relocate from Church Street to the Ravenhead Retail Park next year has thrown the spotlight sharply on the future of St Helens town centre.

Opinion among Star readers over the move has been divided.

Some are positive that the chain is investing in the borough and plan to create a modern store that will both protect and create jobs.

Others regard it as a bodyblow to the town centre.

Both views are right.

M&S isn’t walking away from the town – it is taking a decision that it believes is the correct one to protect the future of its business and this ensures a big name store and jobs remain in St Helens.

But for the town centre – and for those of us who have grown up with M&S as a cornerstone and tradition of Church Street – it is hard to stomach.

For the many pensioners who take the bus into town and don’t use retail parks it will be disappointing and they must wonder what is happening to the place they grew up with.

But M&S’s plans are not St Helens fault – it is driven by national change.

Many other towns an cities are being affected.

What the town’s leaders can do is start to convey with more clarity (and passion) the short-term and long-term strategies for the town centre – and demonstrate some evidence they are being put into action to give the public confidence.

There is still footfall in the town centre and many people want to come here.

But they want somewhere to feel proud of.

As we’ve written before, the answer won’t lie in big retail to start with.

Creating a thriving, bustling sector of independent shops, businesses, restaurants and cafes – along with improved living accommodation – should be achievable in the short-term and this could complement existing retail.

When we have positives we should celebrate and promote them too – and this week’s opening of the family run Tex-Mex restaurant Sabroso in George Street is an an example of the entrepreneurial spirit that can drive St Helens forwards.

Let’s hope we see more in the coming months.