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CALLS have been made for a row of shops destroyed by fire to be rebuilt as soon as possible.

Residents say the heart of the Stakes estate has been ripped out since the massive blaze destroyed the Tesco Express store and Rowlands Pharmacy.

The two shops were gutted by fire and a Chinese takeaway was badly damaged in the arson attack last September.

Six months later and the once-busy shopping area off Lavender Road is a shadow of its former self.

The estate has a large proportion of disabled and vulnerable people living in sheltered accommodation who relied on Tesco.

Stakes councillor Olwyn Kennedy said it was vital the store reopened.

‘We have been trying to move things forward,’ she said.

‘Tesco was leasing the land, that’s where there’s a blip. It’s a serious necessity there.

‘It’s all well and good someone suggesting Tesco lays on a bus to Havant, but that’s not what convenience stores are about.

‘They are supposed to be convenient.

‘We need a convenience store on that site as soon as practical.’

The pharmacy has continued to provide services at the site in a portable cabin, but the takeaway remains closed.

Officials at Brookton 2000 Ltd, which owns the site, said they were working up a planning application for the rebuild of Tesco and the pharmacy.

Daniel Kaye, director of Brookton 2000 Ltd, based in Chandler’s Ford, said: ‘We have a team of professionals appointed and we are working on submitting an application. Then it is in the hands of the local authority.

‘Once we get planning permission, we can look to appoint contractors.

‘Unfortunately these things take longer than members of the general public think.’

Mr Kaye said the shops would be back open in 18 months’ time at the very latest. But he said he hoped the rebuild would be sooner.

He added: ‘The structure will be fire-resistant as per building regulations.’

A spokesman for Tesco said: ‘We are still very much committed to returning to business as usual.

‘We don’t have a timetable at the moment of when that’s happening.’

No-one has been arrested for starting the fire.