THERE were jeers of disapproval from the audience when independent candidate Alan Stone said “fake homeless people” were causing problems at the Top of Town.

Answering a question related to declining high streets, Mr Stone, who owns an antique shop at the Top of Town, said a survey of 24 rough sleepers in this area revealed just eight were homeless.

He accused them of “begging for money for drugs” adding: “These fake homeless people are causing damage to the businesses at the Top of Town. It makes people afraid to come to the Top of Town. We used to have 250 retailers now there’s only 16.”

However, he said the biggest issue was from online retailers avoiding paying tax.

Mrs Miller said: “It’s people like Alan Stone who operate small shops who give our town centre life. We want to go to town centres to go to restaurants and the cinema, we want vibrant town centres.”

She said the borough council was taking the matter “seriously”, adding: “There’s also a role for the government as well and we have already pledged to cut business rates for smaller retailers.”

Mr Mylvaganam, who spent 20 years in retail, said the problem was having units which are “too big”, explaining: “The council has to work to cut the size of the units and come up with a different plan.”

Mr Jenkin said the problem could be resolved by introducing a four-day week which would give people more time to go shopping, and providing free public transport.

Mrs Marchant claimed people who shop online are “prisoners in their own home” adding: “I love the Top of Town it’s the heart and soul of Basingstoke…the question is how do we get the footfall there?”

She said public transport is too expensive, adding: “Let’s take over the Post Office and use it for a food bank. This is how to get the high street going.”