THE future of the Eastgate Centre in Basildon is still bright despite Debenhams’ likely closure, a council leader has stressed.

Labour’s Gavin Callaghan spoke out as Debenhams announced plans to close all stores unless an investor steps in to rescue the ailing high street retailer.

As administrators keep working to find a deal for the 242-year-old department store, Mr Callaghan insists it will not be the end of Eastgate Shopping Centre.

He says the landmark centre in the heart of Basildon has hinted at a new tenant replacing Debenhams.

In addition, he pointed to the long-term £1billion plan for hundreds of new homes in Basildon town centre.

Mr Callaghan, Labour leader of Basildon Council, said: “I am disappointed for everyone who is losing their jobs. Debenhams has been in difficulty for some time.

“Basildon’s store has been shrinking and it’s something we were planning for.

“I’ve been talking to the centre and am confident there will be a new tenant for the site and it will be welcomed in the town.

“I’ve been given that impression from the bosses.”

In September, the Echo revealed how Asda would be flattened as part of plans to partly demolish Eastgate to make way for thousands of homes.

The supermarket is set to downgrade the store as part of the blueprint.

Under the plan, Eastgate would be partly demolished to make way for 2,800 homes, meaning the current supermarket will go.

But Pat Rackley, former Labour councillor for Laindon, raised serious concerns over the possible loss for the town.

She said: “The issue it’s not just Debenhams there, we will be losing Costa and the cafe in there as well and the people could lose their jobs. Debenhams is part of the community and it will take a very large store to replace this one.”

Shoppers also raised concerns about the likely closure.

Laura Goodman, 33, from Laindon said: “How sad, all these stores and others on our High streets closing down. Everywhere will look so sad very soon.

“This is only going to have been expedited by the announcement that their concessions partners Arcadia are in administration. It’s a sad time for British retail.”

Bob Harris, 51, from Basildon said: “I could see other stores want to leave the Eastgate too due to this. It will also see footfall drop but we are lucky that we still have lots of good stores in the centre which will help keep people coming into the town.”

Basildon Council is also planning on a huge £1billion transformation with up to 4,000 high rise homes, a 5,000 seat arena and new youth Zone.