CASTLEPOINT’S Marks and Spencer should be safe from a plan to close 110 branches, but stores in smaller towns are “vulnerable”, a retailing expert has said.

M&S has said it will close another 85 “full-line” stores and around 25 Simply Food outlets – on top of the closure programme which has already claimed its Bournemouth town centre branch.

Jeff Bray, senior lecturer in marketing and retail management, at Bournemouth University, said: “I would imagine Castlepoint is absolutely safe because it’s the only M&S for a little way around and the landlords will be keen to keep those anchor stores in place – so they will be paying, per square metre, a lot less than other tenants at Castlepoint.”

He said M&S remained a “big draw” at big shopping centres, but other regional stores could be vulnerable.

“It’s not that many years ago we had stores in Boscombe and Bournemouth town centres and both of them have gone,” he said.

“There are other stores in a similar position to Boscombe in smaller town centres and these are likely to be the vulnerable stores – but they still have over 1,000 stores in the country.”

Bournemouth’s town centre M&S closed last year after 88 years of trading, although an M&S food line was introduced earlier this month inside WHSmith.

Local M&S stores include a general at Poole’s Dolphin Centre, as well as Simply Food outlets in Westbourne, Christchurch and Lymington, and Foodhalls in Blandford, Ferndown and Broadstone.

The chain posted a 10 per cent drop in annual profits yesterday as it revealed its latest overhaul of the business

It said it was focusing on larger Simply Food shops with parking, which would mean shutting and relocating smaller, less busy outlets.

Chief executive Steve Rowe said: “Our strategy is as much about right sizing, relocating and new openings as it is about closures.”

“Our overall numbers of stores will remain broadly level,” he added.

M&S posted underlying pre-tax profits of £523.2million for the year to March 30, down 9.9 per cent from the previous year.

Mr Rowe said there were “green shoots” of a turnaround, but added that performance was not consistent and had been hit by its store closure programme and wide-ranging revamp plan.

Dr Bray said it was “incredibly difficult” to predict which branches would close, without access to information about leases and rents.

“Occasionally, we’ll have an inkling of those stores that are a little bit more run down and that might be an indicator of the lease length because you’re not going to refurbish a store whose lease is going to expire in a couple of years – but really it would only be guesswork until they release a list of stores,” he said.