The news that Marks and Spencer is hoping to open a new large Simply Food store in Stowmarket has got a lot of shoppers in Mid Suffolk excited.

But it has also set alarm bells ringing among businesses in Ipswich town centre - and could also have an impact on shops in Bury St Edmunds.

Because all over the country M&S is changing - and some of the biggest victims of this change are its traditional town and city centre department stores.

The company has been shifting its attention away from fashion towards its food offering for some years - and is clearly aiming at the "weekly shop" market.

Up to about 10 years ago it was happy to be seen as a shop for the special treat or lunchtime sandwich - but the growth of its Simply Food stores like that at Martlesham showed it could attract those who want to stock up with a week's worth of groceries.

And that is what it has been increasingly looking at - and the move was accelerated by the pandemic, lockdowns and change in work practices which has seen fewer people travelling into town and city centre workplaces everyday and popping into stores at lunchtime.

In Colchester the town centre store closed as the business moved to a retail park just off the A12. Similar closures have happened recently in Northampton, Swindon and Wrexham - sometimes the new sites have been some way away from the town or city centre.

East Anglian Daily Times: An artist's impression of the proposed M&S for Stowmarket.An artist's impression of the proposed M&S for Stowmarket. (Image: Location 3 Properties)

So does a new Simply Food store in Stowmarket necessarily sound the death knell for the Ipswich department store?

Not necessarily, but there is clearly some concern that this move is a clear indication that the company is looking again at its offer in the area.

It's no secret that M&S were interested in taking on the former Toys R Us site at Copdock - a move that was thwarted when that retail warehouse was bought by Ipswich Borough Assets, the property arm of the council.

One of the main reasons for that purchase was to try to ensure M&S stayed in the town centre as long as possible.

But one senior councillor admitted to me: "All we can do is to encourage them to stay in the town centre, it is a very important store - but ultimately if they decide they want to close and move somewhere else we cannot stop them."

It's not clear whether the company will see the opening of a new food store in Stowmarket, about 15 miles from Ipswich town centre, as being close enough to replace the existing store.

As Ipswich Central chair Terry Baxter said: "The one thing that will persuade the company to keep its current store is if local people continue to use it and continue to ensure its profitability."

There hasn't been a planning application submitted for the Stowmarket store yet, but the mood music I am getting from Mid Suffolk council is that there are unlikely to be too many problems when they do discuss it.

There is good road access, but there are also footpaths to the town centre and railway station.

Bury is the same distance as Ipswich from Stowmarket - but Mark Cordell from Our Bury St Edmunds seems more confident the M&S there will survive: "We're told it's one of their most profitable stores and I don't think a new Food Hall in Stowmarket would be a threat."

But the opening of the new store at Stowmarket certainly will attract a few nervous glances from Ipswich - will Ipswich shoppers with cars from the west of the town be as happy to travel there as they have been to go to Martlesham?

The face of shopping in east Suffolk has changed again - and anyone who ignores that is living in a fool's paradise.