WORK on the long-awaited Friars Walk scheme in Newport city centre is "unlikely" to start this year, says a council boss.

This latest news will come as a blow to all those who saw the £200m shopping centre as vital for the city centre's regeneration.

It was originally hoped that work would start towards the end of 2006 but the scheme faced a series of delays - latterly caused by the credit crunch.

City bosses had hoped that construction work could begin later in 2009.

But council leader Matthew Evans has revealed that the funding situation meant it was unlikely they would be on site this year.

He also revealed that the time may come when the council will have to take a decision about whether the project will go ahead.

"Negotiations are still continuing with them but sooner or later it may need to come to a head and we will have to decide whether or not we continue," said Cllr Evans.

Labour group leader Cllr Bob Bright said if there had been a change with the developer's financial position then it was disgraceful Cllr Evans had not had the "common decency" to tell the council, or people in the city, what was happening.

Cllr Evans emphasised that negotiations were still continuing and they were trying to find a way forward.

"But clearly there are difficulties and it needs to be resolved one way or another."

Cllr Herbie Thomas asked whether Debenhams was still "part of the equation".

But Cllr Evans confirmed the anchor store was still part of the scheme.

Managing director Chris Freegard said more than 75 per cent of the centre - which included Debenhams, Marks and Spencer and cinema Vue - was let but the main issue, as consistently reported to the council, was one of funding.

"The issue that has arisen now is how to take forward this scheme within a financial climate which is, to say the least, exceptionally uncertain."

Work was due to start in 2008

Modus Corovest (Newport Ltd) was chosen as the developer of the scheme in April 2005.

In May 2006 the company signed a contract to carry out the scheme and Debenhams signed up as one of the main anchor stores.

Amended plans were given the go-ahead in the autumn of 2007 and the company said work was due to begin in Spring 2008.

Towards the end of last year it appeared that the company was looking for new investors after potential backers were hit by the global financial crisis.