Textile manufacturer Richard Roberts Knitwear could be forced to shut its Urban Road plant in Kirby next year after main customer Marks & Spencer decided not to renew its contract with the company.

The plant, which has a staff of 230, sells 95 per cent of its output to the high street giant.

While Urban Road's contract runs out in spring 2003, the company has already begun talks with its workforce and the National Union of Knitwear, Footwear and Apparel Trades to avert job cuts.

"I'm doing everything I can to find new customers while doing an orderly consultation in case of the worst," Richard Roberts chairman Andrew Bryars said.

"It would be a very sad day if (the plant) shut because we have some very highly skilled people doing an excellent job.

"Ninety-five per cent of the factory's output went to Marks & Spencer so we are now looking for everything from premium brands right through to high street stores, and I'll keep doing that right up until the day we might close."