BUSINESS and council leaders described as "extremely disappointing" and "very sad" confirmation that Beales' flagship Bournemouth branch is to close along with 11 other branches.

The news means Beales is set to disappear from the site where it was founded in 1881.

The branches will close in around eight weeks.

Poole’s branch in the Dolphin Shopping Centre has escaped inclusion on the closure list so far.

Ian Girling, chief executive of Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry, – which this week launched a campaign to revitalise the county’s high streets – said: “We’re extremely disappointed and very sorry to hear about this.

“This is obviously very sad news for Beales and the high street and we’re particularly sad given that Beales is based in Bournemouth. We’re working with local authorities along with partners including Business Improvement Districts to do what we can to revive the high street – whilst realising there’s a plethora of issues facing town centres and a multi-partner approach is needed to support the transition of high streets so they’re fit for the 21st century and adapt to changing consumer requirements and consumer behaviour.

“We’re very concerned about the wider impact of declining high streets on tourism and our economies locally.

“As a county chamber we’re committed to doing our best to support town centres across Dorset.”

Bournemouth’s branch of Beales pays a crippling £440,000 a year in business rates, set by central government but collected by the local council.

BCP Council leader Cllr Vikki Slade said the planned store closures were “very sad news”. She and council chief executive Graham Farrant held talks with Beales boss Tony Brown last week after his call for help with the store’s rates bill.

Cllr Slade said the council had come up with an “imaginative” proposal to help. It related to the planning application – revealed in the Daily Echo – to turn the upper floors of the Bournemouth store into flats.

Cllr Slade said: “We’re hoping there’s still time for us to try and bring this to a successful conclusion.”

The other branches closing are in Hexham, Worthing, Tonbridge, Peterborough, Mansfield, Keighley, Perth, Spalding, Wisbech, Bedford and Yeovil.

As reported last night, a statement from administrator KPMG said there were “active discussions with interested parties regarding a going concern sale of a number of stores”.

But it added: “Unfortunately, however, no offers have been received in respect of selling all 23 stores as a going concern. As a result, the joint administrators are now in the process of developing plans with store directors and management teams to implement the closure of 12 stores.

“It is anticipated that these stores will continue to trade, running closing down sales for around eight weeks. Employees across these stores will be retained to assist with trading over the weeks ahead, and the joint administrators and their teams will continue to work closely with staff during this period.

“There is currently no intention to implement closure plans for the remaining 11 stores, which will all continue to operate as usual until an outcome with regards to a sale of the business is clarified.”