THE battle between Gyle shopping centre bosses and high street favourite Marks & Spencer is set to step out of the changing room and into the courtroom.
Battle lines have been drawn over M&S’s refusal to allow a new Primark store to open at the centre.
The Evening News can reveal papers have now been lodged at the Court of Session as Gyle bosses attempt to sidestep their longstanding anchor tenant.
It is understood that centre chiefs feel they have been left “no alternative” following M&S’s stance and are seeking instruction from the court as to whether it is entitled to allow work to commence or not.
Plans for the budget chain’s arrival were given the green light back in November 2011 – which leaves Gyle owner Ewart Properties in breach of its “binding agreement” to provide a new home for Primark if M&S refuses to budge.
The centre is desperate to see thousands of young Primark shoppers flood through the doors, with 20 store managers, including those from Boots, Monsoon, Clarks, Gap, Disney, and Thomas Cook, penning a letter to management expressing their “frustration at the protracted delays”.
It has been estimated that Primark’s arrival would be worth an extra £4.5 million a year in spending to the Capital that currently goes elsewhere, particularly to Livingston.
A retail source said: “Everyone is amazed and puzzled that it is having to come to this. M&S were just as enthuasiastic as everyone else when this was first floated. It is clear that they now view Primark very much as a direct competitor. You wonder what’s going on within M&S that they’re making such a stand on this. It’s very bad PR if nothing else.”
Retail experts have pointed out that in recent years M&S has seen its profits dwindle while Primark’s rise appears relentless.
In papers to the Court of Session, centre bosses point out that discussions to open a new 60,000sq ft store first began in May 2010 and that from the outset M&S “expressed their endorsement of the proposals stating that it was a positive move for the Gyle and will open up a new demographic to the scheme”. M&S were also present at numerous management committee meetings at which “no objections were raised to the proposal”.
Minutes of these meetings have been provided to the court which highlight discussions surrounding 100 car parking spaces being lost to accomodate Primark and works being due to begin in January 2012 ahead of a February 2013 opening. However, solicitors for M&S have since made it known that their client views the proposal “unfavourably” and that the Gyle “would be acting unlawfully” and in breach of the lease if it were to allow the development to proceed.
An M&S spokeswoman said: “We will be unable to comment before the court case as this is a legal issue.”