Shops in Basingstoke are set to stay open until 10pm once lockdown restrictions have been eased.

The government have announced that non-essential retail will be able to open from 7am to 10pm for six days a week.

It will mean that if measures to ease lockdown progress to the next stage as planned on April 12, shoppers in Basingstoke will be able to visit later, allowing people to avoid the crowds.

If the government gives the green light for restrictions to be eased, it will be the first time since Christmas Eve that non-essential shops are able to open, after Tier 4 measures were introduced here in the winter.

A network representing businesses in the town has hailed the decision as a "lifeline that will be heartily welcomed", but warned that this measure alone will not be enough to tackle problems incurred by a year of tight restrictions.

Ross McNally, chief executive and executive chairman of the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, said: "Extending trading hours later into the evening for non-essential retail, including independent shops, will encourage customers to return when premises are less likely to be crowded, so restoring confidence.

"This is an important step towards rebuilding our economy in a safe way. It is a lifeline that will be heartily welcomed by struggling retailers and their customers.

"At the same time, shop staff should not be pressurised into working late so workplace discussions need to be had to ensure fairness under their employment arrangements."

However, Mr McNally warned that the "key" to fixing problems caused by the Covid lockdown is reform of "iniquitous" business rates.

"Extended trading won’t solve retailers’ problems on its own however," he told The Gazette. "Radical action is still needed from government to encourage shoppers to return to the High Street in greater numbers.

"The key here is to tackle the long overdue reform of business rates, an iniquitous tax that takes no account of profitability or ability to pay.”

The owner of one of Basingstoke's independent stores, Squirrels Antiques, has welcomed the move, despite not taking up the offer himself.

Alan Stone has said that whilst his store will not remain open until 10pm when restrictions ease, he said it was a good move.

"Overall I think it is good as long as shops are sensible with the numbers who go in.

"There are a lot of people who are itching to get back to work. Management and colleagues all want to get back to work.

"We are all fed up with being locked up."

Meanwhile, Festival Place director Neil Churchill said that the centre would support retailers in opening longer hours.

Mr Churchill said: “We are looking forward to all of our retailers being able to open again soon. If there was an option to them to stay open longer, we would of course support them as it would give many of our businesses a much needed boost, as well as giving our visitors an alternative time to come and enjoy Festival Place.”

The move to allow shops to open longer was announced by communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, at the weekend.

Under the road map for easing lockdown measures, non-essential retailers could open again from April 12, at the earliest, provided conditions are met.

Announcing the temporary measures, Mr Jenrick said: “To support businesses to reopen and recover, I’ve extended measures to allow shops to stay open for longer.

“This is part of a package of support to help reopen our shops and high streets safely – backed by £56 million.

“This will provide a much-needed boost for many businesses – protecting jobs, reducing pressure on public transport and supporting people and communities to continue to visit their high streets safely and shop locally.”

The Government has also announced it will extend flexible working hours on construction sites, and will allow food deliveries to supermarkets over more time periods.

Other measures also included keeping the flexibility for pubs and restaurants to put up marquees to help increase seating capacity in a Covid-secure way.