THE Brooks Centre in Winchester is set to be sold off after its managers went into administration, the Hampshire Chronicle can reveal.

The shopping complex will be on the market by March, after its multi-million pound parent company collapsed.

New management could turn the part-empty centre into an “amazing” combination of restaurants, festivals and live events inspired by London’s Covent Garden, a city business leader claimed this week.

Accountancy firm KPMG was called into dozens of companies under the De Stefano Property Group, including Brooks owner London & Henley.

Administrator Jim Tucker said: “In recent years, the value of the portfolio in relation to the security has fallen such that the appointment of administrators was necessary.

“We will be working with the asset managers of the properties and the KPMG Real Estate team to improve the rental income across the portfolio so as to maximise its value.”

The centre, which opened in 1991, was fully let for a year around the turn of the millennium. Currently, almost half of the centre’s 24 units are empty or used as ‘pop-up’ shops.

But its 15 permanent shops, including Beales, Primark and HMV, are expected to stay open.

Chris Turner, executive director of Winchester Business Improvement District (BID), said new management could present “interesting opportunities”.

He envisaged an all-day hub inspired by Covent Garden, with evening events, restaurants, festivals and live music made possible by later opening hours.

“It’s not the most exciting of buildings,” he said, “but it could have interesting things done to it. It could have fashion shows, events, festivals and all the rest in there — we can turn it into an amazing place.

“We’ve never managed to quite get that going because it shuts at half past five.

“We’d like to have an owner who is more enthusiastic about ideas of events. In the last few months we’ve not sensed that enthusiasm and we have not known why — this may be the reason.”

The sale could be delayed for months if KPMG tries to sell all six of the properties at once, he warned.

A spokesman for the firm confirmed that the Brooks would be on the market by the end of March but would not reveal whether it would be sold as part of a package.

Doubts have been raised over its ability to cope with a huge influx of shops onto its doorstep under the £165 million Silver Hill scheme.

David Barr, vice-chairman of Hampshire Chamber of Commerce’s Winchester branch, said: “The viability of the Brooks must have been in question for some time. I have no bright ideas as to how this might be resolved as we move to a more internet-based retail environment.

“Given the Silver Hill development I don’t know what the future of the Brooks holds.”

Stephen Gates, branch chairman, said the Brooks “absolutely” had a future in Winchester and could provide a “boutique shopping experience” with opportunities for entrepreneurs via pop-up shops.

The Brooks Centre declined to comment when approached by the Hampshire Chronicle.