SOUTHAMPTON’S Bargate Shopping Centre will be flattened to make way for a unique covered shopping street, the Daily Echo can reveal.

The nearby Debenhams department store on Queens Way would also be demolished and replaced by a residential tower overlooking Hoglands and Houndwell parks.

A brand new Debenhams would then become the flagship store of a new Bargate pedestrian parade, off the High Street, which would feature a mix of boutique and independent shops.

The city council is in talks with developers Parkridge Holdings, which owns both the Bargate centre and the Debenhams site, about how to revitalise what has become one of the most neglected areas of the city in recent years.

Bargate Shopping Centre, which opened 20 years ago, is today almost entirely vacant and is little more than a teenage hangout area.

Shops have been closing on a regular basis since even before the credit crunch took hold.

A Shakeaway milkshake shop, Sega amusement arcade and an Internet café are among the last traders occupying the threestorey centre.

Rather than simply building another shopping mall, to compete with WestQuay and The Mall Marlands, it is envisaged the centre will be replaced by a new upmarket “covered street”.

Councillor Royston Smith, Cabinet member for economic development, said: “It is early days at the moment because of the economic climate but we are very interested in their proposals to regenerate that part of town.

“Rather than having another shopping mall, as we already have two of those, you would have a shopping street. The shops would be protected from the wind and rain, but it would be completely open.

“We will also look to attract a load of smaller, independent shops that we currently don’t have in WestQuay and are currently struggling to bring into the city.”

Southampton city centre manager Ian McClurg- Welland welcomed the proposals and said he would like the new precinct to have a “village atmosphere”.

He cited the soon to open SouthGate shopping centre in Bath and the Arc Centre in Bury St Edmunds, which opened in March and is anchored by a dramatic curved-shape Debenhams, as inspirations for Southampton.

“The covered street is a novel approach. It’s important to create a different feel in different parts of the city and if Parkridge are going down that line then that is a positive sign,” he said.

“It could just be the uniqueness that Southampton possibly requires. I’d like to see more boutique shops around Bargate and I think that area is calling out to have its own identity, perhaps as a new ‘Bargate Village’.”

Bargate Shopping Centre was sold to Parkridge Holdings, a European property giant, for £17.25m in February 2008 just as the credit crunch was starting to bite.

While no planning application will be submitted to the city council until the economic climate improves, all parties believe now is the time to plan for the future.

A spokesman for Parkridge last night said no details of the plans would be confirmed before the submission of a planning application.

However, he said they were committed to pushing ahead with a major redevelopment.

“The site occupies a strategic location in the city centre and, subject to sensitive and appropriate redevelopment, will play major role in revitalising Southampton as a retail destination and helping grow its position in the hierarchy of UK city centres,”

the spokesman said.

“Given the current economic conditions, plans for any major redevelopment work have inevitably been delayed although Parkridge is committed to submitting a planning application when it is economically prudent to do so.”

Debenhams was unavailable for comment.

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