business owners in Southampton have criticised plans for a new fruit and vegetable market district in the city’s Old Town, saying they were not properly consulted.

They say the council has not formally contacted them about the ambitious project, which could see the Old Town, Holyrood and Queens Park undergo major redevelopment over the next five years.

As revealed in the Daily Echo, the plan has moved a step closer and has been listed as one of seven very important projects in a visionary £2.6 billion city Master Plan for the next 20 years that would bring 24,000 jobs to the city.

The proposed development, hoped to have the same lure as London’s famous Portobello Road market, would include a covered market hall as well as hundreds of new homes, shops and offices.

But businesses have criticised the council for failing to discuss the plan with them.

Tony Morris, owner of the Red Lion Pub on the High Street, said: “At the moment I have only heard about the plans through hearsay and from what I have read in the newspaper. At no point has the council approached me to talk about the proposals and how they will affect my property and my business.

“I’m not against the plans; in fact I have been saying for years that we need to have something that will pump life into this part of town.

“I just think the council should have approached the business owners down here before releasing them.”

Another leaseholder on Bernard Street said: “This is the first I have heard about the plans. I’m pretty peeved that the council hasn’t come to us and at least outlined what it was they wanted to do.

“I don’t have a problem with the improvements but the council can’t just expect people to close their businesses without a proper discussion and consultation.”

A council spokesman said hundreds of businesses across the city were consulted as the Master Plan was drawn up as a vision for the city.

A public consultation on the Master Plan, and a blueprint called the City Centre Action is now running until March 23.

The spokesman said public comments will be considered and the action plan could be amended before it is sent to a Government planning inspector at the end of the year.

Councillors could then formally adopt the plan next year, following the normal planning process.