TRADERS at Farnborough's Kingsmead shopping centre are demanding an immediate cut in their rents because of a dramatic slump in business.

They blame the crisis on centre owner St Modwin Ltd. which, the shopkeepers claim, is neglecting the precinct.

The struggling shopkeepers, in a letter to St Modwin chairman Sir Stanley Clarke, call for a 50 per cent rent reduction from April to September this year to help them survive.

They want him to give the matter urgent attention because some traders are already struggling to pay the £20,000-a-year rent on their premises.

The businesses also want St Modwin to find tenants for Kingsmead's empty shops, and to do more to attract shoppers back to the centre.

They are also pressing for the precinct to be kept in good order and proper repair, so that it is once again an attractive place to visit.

The letter, written by the newly formed Kingsmead Retailers' Association, continues: "Kingsmead is dying and it appears that, instead of taking action to prevent or reverse this decline, your company is actually encouraging it.

"Your policy of laying waste to Queensmead by closing and boarding up the majority of shops has now been extended to Kingsmead, with empty shops at the north end."

Association spokesman Peter Newman said on Monday they had written to the chairman because previous talks at a lower level had failed to have any impact.

"The situation is desperate," he said. "People aren't coming to shop at Farnborough any more because so many shops are closed."

Mr Newman, proprietor of Fingz Ladies' Fashions, added that the closure of almost 50 shops in Queensmead - which is earmarked for redevelopment - had had a disastrous impact on other businesses, including his own.

A spokesman for St Modwin would only say that Sir Stanley Clarke would reply to the traders in due course.