WINCHESTER planners have resisted a proposal to radically alter an edge of town superstore in order to protect the city centre.

City councillors say proposals by Royal London, for the Homebase store on Easton Lane, would damage the vitality of the High Street.

Homebase oppose the application and says it wants to remain on the site with a new lease signed at the end of 2019 running until the end of 2024.

Royal London said they will not try to change the store with Homebase there but were 'future proofing the site.

Royal London submitted four applications: to change the planning condition from 'bulky goods' to a more general retail; covering over the garden centre and converting it into another shop; enlarging the mezzanine floor, creating another unit; and a standalone 'pod', suitable for a coffee shop in the car park.

The committee heard that Homebase opened as Texas Homecare in 1993.

Mark Fletcher, of the city council economic development team, said there was no need for any additional retail floorspace and the High Street was under pressure.

"We want to support future visits to the town centre. Additional units may become available there with the situation at Debenhams. This proposal would be detrimental."

The vacancy rate has climbed from 6.9 per cent in January to a current 9.1 per cent and there have been several recent closure including Laura Ashley, Whittards, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, Jaeger, with Debenhams set to follow.

The application attracted 263 objections, including a petition, with 16 letters of support.

Stuart Vendy, an agent for Homebase, said: "Existing retail centres should be allowed to adapt, revive and recover. City centres do come first. I don't see any reason why that approach should be altered."

Danny Simmonds, speaking for Royal London, told the planning committee: "For the avoidance of doubt, this application is not designed to remove Homebase rather to future proof the building.

"Homebase has been in different ownership. Their future is uncertain and they have pulled out of a number of locations. Royal London would love Homebase to stay but we don't know and we suspect Homebase don't know what the position will be in five years. This is about providing insurance and future proofing the building."

He argued any changes at Winnall would have little impact on the city centre.

Committee chairman Therese Evans said: "It's essential we keep the vitality of our city centre. We have always the resisted the move from the city centre to out of town shopping.

"We heard from Mr Simmonds with respect to future proofing. We need to future proof Winchester town centre.

"We must keep the economic vitality of the city centre vibrant. To approve this would not do so," referring to the first application about changing the type of goods that can be sold.

Cllr Angela Clear agreed. "We need to focus on the high streets and support them. If we don't they will die."

Cllr Jane Rutter said: "There is no justification for changing the sort of goods we allow to be sold from this site."

But Cllr David McLean put forward a counter-view: "Are we getting overexcited? Did Tesco (at Winnall) damage the High Street?"

The committee rejected changing the planning condition from 'bulky goods' ie DIY to a more general retail; but it had no planning reasons to refuse covering over the garden centre and converting it into another shop or enlarging the mezzanine floor.

The fourth application for a standalone 'pod', suitable for a coffee shop in the car park was refused.