A CITY council chief has said that a key priority is to "breathe new life and activity" into Kings Walk.

It comes as Winchester City Council has given Sunflowers Emporium and Sukee Market until February to leave their current locations at Kings Walk, leaving both frustrated and confused by the decision.

It forms part of the city council’s long-term plan for the area, to revamp the current set-up to create an ‘arts and creative hub’.

Former Winchester City Council election candidate Andy Lai raised concerns about the two shops and asked for more support at a meeting of the full council on Wednesday, but Cllr Kelsie Learney, cabinet member for housing and asset management, ignored Mr Lai's plea for help and did not mention the businesses affected.

READ MORE: Kings Walk shops to be evicted for arts and creative hub

Mr Lai said: “Local businesses are struggling to stay afloat as we all get used to living with Covid. Independents in particular depend on the support of their local councils to make sensible decisions to help keep them trading. Despite this, we are seeing two businesses being evicted from Kings Walk, and barely a week goes by when we don’t read of a business having to close their doors due to their council landlord not being prepared to come to sensible accommodations on rent and other charges. How will this administration commit to supporting the local business community?”

In response, Cllr Learney, said that the council is “fully committed to supporting the local business community” and has provided around £50 million worth of grants to support businesses most affected by Covid-19, with further grants available in the coming weeks.

Cllr Learney said: “The council is also committed to bringing forward the long-awaited Central Winchester Regeneration area to deliver the vision of the Central Winchester Regeneration Supplementary Planning Document and bring resilience the local economy. To support our local and independent creative businesses, a key priority is to breathe new life and activity to the area in and around Kings Walk which will be an important step towards the long-term transformation of the wider area.”

SEE ALSO: Winchester City Council confirms Kings Walk demolition

The cabinet member told Mr Lai that “further initiatives which will continue to raise consumer awareness and drive footfall”, adding: “The council considered requests for rent holidays from its own tenants as a result of the pandemic. In total £572,000 of rent has been foregone from 60 tenants with the intention to support tenants in genuine need and assist them navigate through the worst of the pandemic without irreparable harm to tenant businesses.”

Mr Lai tried to ask the council to promise to not evict the tenants affected at Kings Walk until suitable alternative premises have been found, and urged the council to consider reducing car parking charges but was stopped as it was not deemed to be a follow-on question, as is procedure.

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Kimberley Barber