AROUND 20 per cent of units in Basingstoke’s flagship shopping centre are vacant.

With retail suffering in recent years, many shops in Festival Place have closed, resulting in a high number of empty units, including the former Debenhams unit which spans across three floors and has been vacant since May 2021.

One of the latest businesses to vacate the shopping centre was Supercuts which closed its hairdressing salon in Festival Place on December 9.

Despite new shops opening last year, at least 27 units in Festival Place remain empty, some of which have been vacant for several years.

Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, which adopted a masterplan for the town centre in December 2022 to ‘breath life back into the area’, said Festival Place will need to “adapt” to “ensure the town centre is not so reliant on retail and has a range of uses”.

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The borough council’s design team has begun testing ideas for specific sites in the town centre and analysing the cost to assess the viability of its ideas.

The masterplan was adopted following consultation with the public an stakeholders in 2021, when more than 3,300 people responded to a survey, the feedback from which was used to shape the masterplan.

The borough council appointed a team of experts to look at transforming the town centre and the masterplan was created to respond to “the effects of changes in shopping habits”.

It said: “Although Basingstoke town centre, including Festival Place and The Malls, had success in attracting investment and new retailers in recent years, the pandemic meant that town centres across the country continue to face significant challenges, such as a decline in footfall and shop closure.”

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The improvements aim to encourage more people to visit the town centre and set the future direction for the town centre over the coming decades.

It includes creating opportunities for a range of different uses so it is not reliant on retail, such as more traditional streets and opening up space for community and cultural uses, workspace, education and new homes.

The plan also aims to create “new pockets of green space” and update the road network to reduce the need for short car trips through the town centre.

Festival Place and Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council have been asked for a comment.