CASTLEPOINT'S crumbling car park could still be held up by props in a year's time, it is feared.

Frustrating and long-winded discussions about the way forward mean no firm dates have been set for the demolition and rebuilding of the huge car park.

And no one wants to take responsibility for the multi-million pound problems, which saw the centre closed for business during last year's peak Christmas shopping season.

"There are a lot of people who think they should not pay," said David Paine, speaking on behalf of the Castlepoint Limited Partnership.

"That car park is not what we bought and paid for.

"We currently have a robust solution and we are confident it is safe but it is not a permanent solution."

Mr Paine, who works with operators Standard Life Investments, said discussions are currently under way with builders Kier, who in turn are in talks with their insurers.

But he was unable to say how long the talks will take.

Mr Paine said the external appearance of the car park is likely to remain the same but drastic changes will be needed to prevent future problems.

Plans to open up more outlets on the lower level of the shopping centre have been put on hold.

Mr Paine and centre manager Peter Matthews stressed that this Christmas and New Year will see the centre open for business as usual.

Castlepoint is currently attracting more customers than it did before the car park closure.

"The concerns of our customers a year ago were understandable and it is encouraging that they have returned" said Mr Paine.

"We are grateful to them for the loyalty that they have shown us."

And they have pledged to do all they can to ensure current traffic problems on Castle Lane are kept to a minimum.

The centre's 3,000 staff will be told to use park and ride facilities during peak shopping periods in the run-up to Christmas to ensure as many spaces as possible are available for shoppers.

It is estimated that around 400 staff cars are on-site at any one time.

The Castlepoint shopping centre closed without warning on December 1 last year due to safety concerns surrounding the car park.

Retailers lost millions of pounds as shoppers were forced to go elsewhere. Temporary props were installed before the car park was allowed to re-open.

  • Next week the Daily Echo will look back at last year's problems and to the future of the centre.