WORK on a £130m shopping complex in the heart of Winchester could be underway by October.

The Silver Hill scheme, which would transform the centre of the city, has been in the pipeline for 20 years and will bring in hundreds of new jobs.

The likely timescale was revealed by Winchester City Council’s corporate director, Steve Tilbury, at a town forum meeting in the Guildhall last night (WEDS 12).

He said a cabinet meeting in June will be asked to make a final decision regarding the plans, and that a formal planning application from the city’s partner in the project, Henderson Global Investors, would follow “shortly thereafter”.

It follows an agreement earlier in the year in which Henderson and the city council agreed a price with rival landowner, London and Henley, for Kings Walk Parade, the Antiques Market, and the former post office buildings.

But some councillors are unhappy that the proposals do not include a replacement bus station, currently run by Stagecoach. Instead, there will be more shops.

Cllr James Maynard suggested Stagecoach may have been influenced by the developers in their decision not to continue with it, and asked whether the firm had arrived at its decision because the council had failed to press the case for a station.

“It would seem an extraordinary coincidence that Stagecoach have changed their minds just at the moment Henderson are preparing new plans for their centre,” he said.

But Mr Tilbury said Stagecoach felt the station was not viable.

“For lots of reasons, they have made their decision that they do not want to continue with that scheme, so there is no point providing one if no one is going to use it,” he said.

It also emerged that Henderson’s current plans do not include public toilets – an issue raised by Cllr Martin Tod.

Mr Tilbury said: “There are no public toilets in the design at the moment and that’s exactly the purpose of public consultation: to gauge strength of feeling on a particular point.”

MMX Retail is acting as a consultant on the complex and says demand from retailers is “extremely strong”, although a recent plan from Marks and Spencer snubbed the centre in favour of a Easton Lane. That application was opposed by Henderson and eventually rejected by planning chiefs.