MARK & Spencer has announced that it will close its central Bicester store.

In the latest blow to the town centre, the high street giant confirmed it will be shutting its food hall in Sheep Street next year.

It comes as part of plans to open a new, bigger unit in the £40 million retail park being built on the edge of the town at Kingsmere.

Read again: Next and M&S set to open at new Bicester retail park

The Oxford Times:

The shop previously announced it would be opening a unit at the Kingsmere retail park site but, until now, had not confirmed the impact on its town centre presence.

Residents have already raised concerns the new retail park will draw shoppers away from the town centre.

The Oxford Times:

An artist's impression of the new Kingsmere retail park.

Marks & Spencer bosses said the new store would offer 'a better shopping experience' for customers.

A spokeswoman told this paper: "We’re really excited about our plans to invest in Bicester and open a new food store at the Kingsmere Retail Park.

"Our new store will offer a much better shopping experience and be more convenient for our customers, from the bigger selection of products, to the increased parking spaces that will be available.

"We’ll continue to operate out of Sheep Street until the new store is ready next year and we’ll of course keep our customers updated on the plans."

Other shops that have closed in the town centre in recent years include Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Blue Inc clothes shop, Henry's tailors and most recently the Bicester Bakery Shop.

Crown Walk has also recently been sold to developers hoping to revitalise the shopping parade by attracting new shops and updating the walkway.

Read again: Crown Walk sold off

Work started in January on the new retail park – formerly called Bicester Gateway Retail Park – being built just off the A41 at Kingsmere.

Plans include space for Next and Marks & Spencer Simply Food, plus another shop yet to be named, a gym and a restaurant.

The Oxford Times:

Map showing the location of the new Kingsmere retail park.

Developer Consolidated Property Group said the plans aimed to allow high street brands to move to the town and stop people travelling out of Bicester for shopping.

The scheme was approved almost two year ago, in April 2017, after previously being refused over concerns about traffic on the already-busy A41 and its impact on the town centre shops.

Oxfordshire county councillor for Bicester West Les Sibley, commenting on the town centre store closure, said: "This will be a devastating blow for residents, particularly those who live in and around the town centre.

"It has been one of the most successful stores in the town centre and it will take a long time for us to repair and revitalise the town centre to what it once was."

Read again: Bicester's retail park plans dubbed town's 'Marmite'

Mr Sibley added that the new Marks & Spencer food store would be opening close to another new Co-op store also opening at Kingsmere.

He added: "It raises the issue of traffic impact again, the A41 is already suffering with the new McDonalds, other upcoming developments such as the business park, and all in one square mile of each other."

The new retail park is expected to be completed by the end of October.