A MAJOR retailer is to shut up shop in an East Lancashire shopping centre.

WH Smith has announced its Accrington store is to close in March following a failure to negotiate rents with the Arndale Centre.

The decision has been described as a ‘major blow’ to the town, which already has a high percentage of empty shops.

The stationery giants said they were hoping to find an alternative location in the town, but that rents at the shopping centre had led to a dec-ision to close.

Council leader Miles Parkinson said he was ‘worried and concerned’ by the news. And leader of the opposition at Hyn-dburn Council, Peter Brit- cliffe said he was calling for all-party talks between local leaders and the Arndale Centre.

Coun Britcliffe said: “WH Smith’s closure would be a tremendous blow to Accrington as the decline in the centre is unbelievable.

“I find this news very worrying and I would urge the Arndale Centre to get real. People are try-ing to trade in very difficult conditions and we need to keep shops open, not see them close.

“Losing a major name like WH Smith is a disaster for Accrington.”

Coun Parkinson said: “We’ve been involved in recent negotiations and I have offered whatever help I can, but it seems to have gone past that point now. It is very sad that WH Smith is now set to close.

“I am very concerned and worried, and want answers as to what direction the owners are taking the Arndale Centre in.

“It looks like current plans are not sustainable and I would like to discuss their business plan, and how to move things forward.”

A spokeswoman for WH Smith said: “We can confirm our store in Accrington will close in March 2013.

“The decision has been taken following the lease expiring.

“We have been unable to agree a rent with the landlord. We are disappointed to be losing our presence in the town and if a suitable location became available that was viable, we would consider it.”

The Arndale Centre changed hands in April last year to an off-shore company. Property management of the centre passed to Manchester firm Lee Baron, overseen by London asset management firm Jesta.

On taking over, Jesta said it hoped to revitalise the centre and encourage interest from big national retailers. David Berman, from Jesta, said: “These negotations are confidential, but we would very much like WH Smith to remain. We are still talking with them and at the moment. Nothing is dead and buried.”