A CONCEPT masterplan that sets out how Basingstoke’s Top of The Town could be developed over the next 20 years has been approved by the borough council’s cabinet.

As previously reported in The Gazette, Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council has been working with Urban Initiatives Studio – a team of specialists experienced in transforming appearances of towns and cities – on plans to revive the area.

The scheme was launched last summer, and Councillor Ranil Jayawardena, deputy leader of the borough council, and town centre project manager Chas Bradfield were tasked with spearheading the overhaul.

The concept masterplan has now been approved by members of the borough’s cabinet, with all members voting to adopt the 20-year vision.

Key improvements that have been proposed are:

*Turning Top of The Town car parks such as Central car park, near the Red Lion Hotel, into a specialised zone of new “niche retail” higher end independent shops, cafes, restaurants and businesses

* Improving access to the town centre for motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and public transport

* Introducing two-way traffic into New Road, increasing access to Market Square

* Building a new 470-space multi-storey car park in Southern Road But some opposition members slated the development at the meeting, and have urged action on the number of empty shops in the area.

Councillor Paul Harvey, deputy leader of the borough’s Labour group, told the meeting: “The latest figures show that Top of The Town vacancy is at its highest level for the last five years, and it is running at 10 per cent.

“We can’t afford to have a 10 per cent vacancy rate, and it does need to be addressed. It has taken eight years to get to this point. The issue going forward is that we need to achieve tangible results.”

Cllr Stuart Parker, Liberal Democrat councillor for Eastrop, added: “I support the principle of regeneration of the Top of The Town. But instead of pushing forward to complete small schemes, the cabinet member (Cllr Jayawardena) has been too ambitious with his grandiose major schemes that will need sizeable separate funding and take years to complete.”

But Cllr Jayawardena defended the plans, saying: “This is simply a concept. We have to make important decisions to ensure the Top of The Town doesn’t get left behind.

“We will consult with residents, traders and others in taking forward our plans, as we do with any project by this council.”