ONE of the best known food stores in the country is expected to open its new branch in Hampshire by Christmas.

The new Marks & Spencer in Eastleigh is anticipated to open later in 2017, although an exact date has not been set yet.

As previously reported, the Twyford Road Simply Food branch will be 16,000 square feet, with a mezzanine level, café, and about 45 car parking spaces.

Works are continuing on the site.

An M&S spokesperson said: “We’re looking forward to opening our new Foodhall in Eastleigh later this year; the store will bring the very best of M&S food to the area. We will update the local community with further details nearer the time.”

The Eastleigh store is the only branch based in Hampshire of the 36 recently announced to be opened across the country as part of a five-year store plan.

The new facility will also see seven metre tank for harvesting rainwater - already installed under the car park. It will be able to hold 18,200 litres of water which will be piped through to the store for flushing the in-house loos.

A spokesperson for Eastleigh Borough Council said: “We are pleased with the progress. We are happy with the way things are going. At the moment it’s still being built. It’s on track.”

The steel structure of Marks and Spencer’s Eastleigh outlet has already been completed.

An innovative root space crate system has been dug into the ground under the car park to make room for the roots of six of the eight trees.

And the Twyford Road side of the building will have a ‘living wall’ - a vertical wall with plants growing in soil - as is a common feature in other M&S stores throughout the country.

As previously reported, the build has caused controversy, with Eastleigh Borough Council refusing to clarify exactly how the £3.6m it borrowed to fund the development was being spent, and whether it was borrowed in compliance with M&S specifications.