Waitrose is looking to close six of its stores and phase out the role of department manager in a move that could affect up to 680 jobs.

The retailer is proposing the closure of five branches - Hertford’s Bircherley Green Shopping Centre, Staines’ Two Rivers Shopping Centre, Leek, Huntingdon and Cardiff’s Queen Street - due to their commercial performance. It is also consulting on the possible closure of its Palmers Green branch in London as it prepares to open a new shop in nearby Winchmore Hill.

Waitrose will open a total of eight new stores over the course of the year - two supermarkets and six Little Waitrose shops - which it says will create nearly 600 new jobs. Two of these Little Waitrose stores have already opened in Leatherhead and Faringdon.

It pledged to support the 498 employees affected by the store closures and to offer “appropriate and convenient” alternative roles wherever possible.

Waitrose also stressed that the role of department manager would be phased out gradually over a period of three years and pledged there would be no compulsory redundancies - instead voluntary redundancies, “natural turnover” and retirement. It estimated that 180 of the 486 department manager roles would be gone by 2020.

The restructuring would create “a more flexible branch team working in a ‘whole shop’ culture”, Waitrose said.

Last summer, the retailer reported disappointing results for 2015-16 with a 17% fall in profits to £66.6m, which forced it to cut its annual bonus for staff. And in September it scaled back its expansion by abandoning plans to open seven more Waitrose branches.

But trading picked up over Christmas, with a 4.8% increase in sales to £914.9m and convenience sales performing particularly strongly with a 13.1% increase (4.8% on a like-for-like basis).

Bryan Roberts, global insights director at TCC Global, said Waitrose was doing “the right thing to protect the future of the business” rather than “sticking its head in the sand” over stores that weren’t performing as well as they should do. 

“The business is still maintaining momentum and their market share growth is in positive territory but it is subject to the same cost pressures as everyone else,” he said.

”There is lots to admire about what they are doing in their stores with their sushi bars and kitchen at its Barbican branch and lots to admire about the business.”