WORK on a £135m scheme to regenerate a Hampshire city could start as soon as early 2015, a packed meeting heard.

But Winchester City Council may have to go back to the planners, according to its chief executive Simon Eden, speaking at a conference last week.

The project is more than a decade in the making, with the council and developers Henderson Global Investors taking a big step earlier this year after a planning inspector approved a compulsory purchase order (CPO) for the land.

Mr Eden said talks were still ongoing on the CPO with local landowners and that development was not far off.

He said: “With a fair wind we can resolve that and it will open up certain discussions about what has changed over the past five years or so.

“We may well see changes that require us to go back to planning. If I were to ‘guesstimate’ I would say perhaps in early 2015 we could start to see real construction starting.

“We are discussing an illustrated project plan for the next couple of years or so. We want to say something public as soon as we feel we are in a position to but at the moment things are commercially sensitive.”

More than 100 representatives from city businesses attended the meeting at Winchester Guildhall which led to a heated debate on Silver Hill.

Crystyna Nimmo, architectural technologist at ADAM Architecture, said: “We have a beautiful High Street here and The Square and Parchment Street are lovely. All of these places have grown over hundreds of years and that’s why they are so well liked.

“But people don’t go to The Brooks so if we build something like Silver Hill which will be even bigger, why are they going to go there?”

Paul Morgan, of Warrens and Son stationer, added: “Will Silver Hill fill a demand that is there or will it create more vacancies because it dilutes the retail space?”

But Chris Turner, executive director of Winchester Business Improvement District, who helped organise the Future of the High Street conference, said the city needed the Silver Hill development.

He said: “Silver Hill is a dead area. It’s a quarter of a beautiful city that is absolutely derelict and to most people it is a scandal we waited ten years to do something about it.”

The meeting also heard from Henderson associate director of property research Angela Goodings, who said the scheme could boost spending in the city by 27 per cent and bring in shoppers from other Hampshire towns like Eastleigh and Andover.

She said: “We are projecting a 27 per cent increase in retail spend, driven by Silver Hill.”