THE future of a Hampshire shopping centre is hanging in the balance after stunned business owners were told they had just weeks to get out.

Tenants fear the sudden moves to kick them out of Southampton’s Bargate Shopping Centre mean it could be closing for good.

It comes after failed attempts to sell the complex by receivers dealing with the liquidation of its owners more than a year ago.

But while some of the 11 retailers still operating in the centre have been given just four weeks’ notice to quit their shops, others have not been given any information.

Traders said they have been left in the dark over the plans for the complex, and some said they believe there are moves to clear it so it can be sold.

Last night the company managing it on behalf of the receivers admitted it is “not fully clear” what will happen.

Jane Bryant, chief executive of national youth arts project Artswork, which has a unit in the centre, said: “We have got three months. We know nothing.

“Why is it so secret? We have heard a lot of rumours – people were interested in buying this place, then they disappeared.”

Lloyd Phillips, owner of Lucid and Lucky’s, said he and others had been shocked at being given notice to leave the complex.

He said: “BNP Paribas took control and were going to sell it as a going centre, but now they want it completely empty.

“I realised it was getting tough but I was assured that I didn’t have to worry. Two or three weeks ago I was told they were going to rejuvenate the centre.”

Opened less than 25 years ago, Bargate Shopping Centre was sold to European property giant Parkridge Holdings for £17.25m in February 2008, just as the credit crunch started to bite.

In 2009, plans were revealed to demolish the centre and replace it with a covered street of boutique and independent shops alongside a flagship Debenhams store.

But that scheme was later scrapped, and the firm set up to run the centre – Parkridge (Bargate) Ltd – was liquidated in late 2011 after running up major losses.

A representative from Savills, which is acting as the managing agent for the centre on behalf of receivers BNP Paribas Real Estate, said: “They have a strategy and have asked us to carry out certain things.

“There isn’t a full clear picture yet as to what the full strategy is.”

The chief executive of the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, Jimmy Chestnutt, said if the centre closes he hopes the site can be quickly brought back into use, although that may not be as shops.

No one from BNP Paribas was available for comment.