EASTGATE Shopping Centre must be updated to bring in leisure venues and drive up footfall or it could be left empty, says a senior councillor.

Former leader of Basildon Council, Phil Turner, insists the centre must be redeveloped with leisure offerings, similar to Lakeside Shopping Centre, to bring back shoppers after H&M and Next announced it was closing stores.

Leading Tory councillors and council leaders insist the centre will be reduced in size and it is inevitable housing will be built there.

Mr Turner, Tory member of Basildon Council’s Planning Committee and Housing and Estate Renewal Committee, said: “I think the future of the centre hangs in the balance and there is a huge risk it could be left an empty shopping mall.

“I think we also need to reduce the amount of shops space so we can have higher quality shops and less pop-up and temporary shops. We also need more leisure offering and venues like at Lakeside with the bowling alley and indoor trampolining park.

“The Eastgate has been the jewel in the crown of the town centre but now things are levelling up a bit and the rest of the town has been falling behind for some time.

“The shops closing is ripping apart my heart and doesn’t look good at all.”

Plans have already been agreed for part demolition of the centre and up to 2,800 homes at the site, under the previous Labour and Independent administration.

The new Tory leaders say they are unsure but think exact plans were not finalised and they are waiting for results of a public consultation to draw up plans.

Anthony Headley, deputy leader of Basildon Council, said he thinks the it will be cut by 30 per cent for homes.

The chairman of the council’s Regeneration and Economic Development Committee said: “We need a mixed used centre with some shops and there will be housing too. I think we’re looking at a reduction of 20 to 30 per cent in the centre and this area will be used for housing.

“Residents are also telling us they want to see open green spaces and that homes are well designed and in proportion.”