THE loss of a town centre Marks and Spencer store will be “devastating”, according to councillors.

The chain is set to close 30 of its shops around the country, with the branch in Town Square, Basildon, rumoured to be one of those affected.

Information collected by the Local Data Company, including how many vacant shops there are in the area, was used to compile a list of stores believed to be under threat.

Basildon’s town centre branch is understood be appear on the list because there is also a Simply Food store at the Mayflower Retail Park, off the A127.

David Burton-Sampson, Labour councillor for St Martin’s ward, believes the closure would be a “big blow” to £39million town centre regeneration plans - which include a new market and state-of-the-art campus for the South Essex College, currently based in Nethermayne, Basildon.

He said: “It would be an absolute tragedy for the town. We have already lost BHS and to lose M&S as well would be dreadful.

“It would seriously impact the council’s plans for the town centre and would provide residents with a much depleted service. It’s a really well used store so it would be such a shame.

“It would be really awful and I do hope it’s not going to happen and hope it will stay in Basildon.

“The whole point of the regeneration plans is to encourage people to come back into our town.

“There will also be more houses coming to the town which would generate more footfall so it would be such a shame. I’d want to encourage bigger businesses to support Basildon and our regeneration plans for the future.

“M&S is such a major part of the town centre. I feel really sorry for all the employees who have this hanging over them, they must feel like they are in limbo.”

Basildon Council deputy leader Kevin Blake is confident the store will survive the closures.

He said: “It would be a terrible shame but personally I can see it happening.

“They will see we are a progressive council and we are pushing forward in developing our town centre.

“The fact is we are bringing in the new market and college campus; their food store isn’t too expensive and it wouldn’t price out students.

“They are a massive company and they would know what is happening so it’s a massive opportunity for them too.”

The Brentwood High Street store is also reported to be under threat.

A further 45 branches will be converted to sell food only as part of a five year shake-up.

A spokesman for the chain said: “We are very disappointed that anyone would choose to speculate in this way. This list is not based on any M&S data and we have not published any locations.

“What we have done is outlined plans to improve our store estate over the next five years.”