The owners of a Winchester shop fighting eviction have labelled the city council as ‘disgraceful’ after learning a permanent replacement has yet to be found, despite civic chiefs pushing ahead with the controversial move.

Barbara Cooper and Alistair Day of Sunflower Emporium in Kings Walk were left enraged when they discovered council officers were instead considering ‘pop-up’ options to avoid the units - which they’ve occupied since 2017 - remaining vacant once they’ve evicted the pair.

Both Sunflower Emporium and Sukee Market had previously been told they had until mid-May to leave amid the council’s long-term plan to revamp Kings Walk and transform it into an ‘arts and creative hub’.

However, in a host of emails obtained by Ms Cooper and Mr Day following a freedom of information request, council workers involved with the project appeared to question the decision to boot them out without a replacement having been lined up.

Mr Day, who manages the shop, said: “Reading the emails it seems the council didn’t really have a proper plan to start with. The requirements for their ‘creative hub’ were made retrospectively and yet we still comply with four of their criteria, but no one will give us any answers as to how those being allowed to stay fit into that category, or how we could adapt our business to remain where we are.

“The way they have handled this is not only frustrating but totally unprofessional. The council constantly trumpets its support for local businesses and has said how all along it has been helping us with finding a new shop, but in reality, they’re doing exactly the opposite. We have been met with absolute silence whenever we have tried to cooperate and find a solution with the council."

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To add insult to injury, council estates manager Melissa Jepson said they would have to ‘fold’ their business of 16 years if they couldn’t find anywhere else suitable to trade by the council’s deadline, despite the Lib Dem authority previously pledging to help Ms Cooper and Mr Day relocate to new premises in the city centre.

In an email to colleagues, she said: “We should only chat to them about our assistance in finding new premises as we don't want them to rely on us. We know there is little in the way of alternative suitable premises, and this is likely to be their argument for continued occupation even after June. They will have to fold their business if nothing comes up.”

Mr Day continued: “We think this is personal now. It's not Melissa Jepson's place to say whether we should fold or not and I was almost in disbelief when I read that comment – it’s disgraceful.”

In a separate email released to the pair, head of programme Veryan Lyons said the council planned to delay any further action on Sunflower Emporium and Sukee Market until after Thursday’s elections, instead intending to serve a month’s notice on both shops in mid-May.

Ms Lyons also referenced a conversation with Cllr Kelsie Learney in which the cabinet member for housing and asset management said she was willing to handle any “adverse publicity” surrounding the shops being left vacant as it was a “political decision” to move towards creative trades.

Ms Cooper, who owns Sunflower Emporium, said: “Of the councillors behind all of this, none of them have even been in my shop, so how can they make such a life changing decision on our behalf?

“This shop is mine and Alistair’s life, and the voting public deserve to know how these people have treated us. The first thing I said when we received a letter to say we had been given an extension is, 'I bet they're just trying to keep me quiet until after the elections', and now I've been proven right.

"I've said all along that I’m not leaving, they’ll have to take me to court to get me out and that hasn't changed."

Dawn Adey, strategic director for Winchester City Council said: "We informed a number of tenants at Kings Walk in August 2021 that, due to the longer term plans for the building, their leases would not be renewed at the end of 2021. We have been in regular contact with these tenants and enabled them to remain on a short term basis as they look to secure alternative premises."

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