Thousands of people could be left without jobs if the company behind Lakeside Shopping Centre is forced to close the site, a councillor has warned.

Shopping centre giant Intu warned on Tuesday it is at risk of going bust due to billions of pounds of debt, putting some of the UK’s biggest shopping centres including Lakeside, at risk of closure.

Labour councillor Victoria Holloway, who represents West Thurrock and South Stifford where Lakeside is located, said closure of the shopping centre would be “unimaginable” and have a “devastating” impact on the borough.

She said: “This is absolutely not what you want to see. A lot of businesses are in financial difficulty right now but Lakeside is such an enormous part of Thurrock’s infrastructure that if it were to close it would have an absolutely devastating impact.”

She explained that thousands are employed by Lakeside ranging from shop and maintenance workers to cleaners.

She added: “If this is going under, we need to make contingencies. This could be hundreds and hundreds of people who could be jobless in Thurrock.

“We want people to be able to work locally in Thurrock and I think the council needs to begin exploring what we can do to protect people’s livelihoods.

“Sadly, as with the collapse of many of these big multinational companies, their downfall always has the biggest impact on the day to day workers.

“It would be almost unimaginable for Thurrock if Lakeside was to close, it has become so integral to how people shop, eat and socialise. Intu really developed it to be more than just a shopping destination.”

News of the financial problems has come just days before Thurrock Council’s planning committee meets to discuss a major £168million extension to Lakeside that would include up to 40 new shops, a new multi-storey car park, bring major improvements to public transport and create almost 3,000 jobs.

Intu said in planning documents that it would help turn the shopping centre into a “regional town centre” and the council’s planning officers have recommended the plans for approval.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service contacted Intu for comment on whether the extension would still be able to go ahead in light of this week’s news but did not receive a response.