WINCHESTER could attract the headquarters of a national company if the area around the railway station is redeveloped, a meeting heard.
Architect Paul Bulkeley said the area around the railway station was ripe for regeneration with potential for very big buildings.
“We are talking nine to ten storeys. That is a lot of floor space, the kind of building a major company might relocate to from London. These are the kind of heights that would be enough to generate serious interest from developers while not doing harm to the skyline of the city.
“It would bring employment back out of London. People would be working somewhere they want to live, that is a more sustainable future.”
Speaking at a meeting called by the City of Winchester Trust and Winchester Action on Climate Change, Mr Bulkeley said another option was for a major arts building. “Where are the cultural buildings in Winchester? For the city we aim to be, I don’t think we have that many.”
The meeting heard that the land is mainly owned by the city and county councils and Network Rail, relatively few landowners which would make development easier. The land in question stretches from Gladstone Street to the Cattle Market off Worthy Lane and is mainly car parks.
Mr Bulkeley said the car parks could be retained with buildings on top, potentially creating more space for parking cars, not less. Much of the land is in a valley so building would not be overbearing. One (Cromwell House) on Andover Road is eight storeys high.
He called on the local authorities to make sure they keep control of any development so the city ends up with what it wants and not what a developer wants.
David Ashe, of CH Design, said electrification of the railway between Southampton and the Midlands in 2018 would boost commuter traffic there was unrealised potential for the train station to also be a bus hub.
He said the area was full of relatively “poor-quality urban fabric” such as the TA Centre on Gladstone Street and commercial buildings on Andover Road such as Brewers and the Hunt’s store.
“There is no feeling of arriving in the historic capital of England. When you get to the junction, it is a sea of tarmac. The station is isolated from the city. You come from the station, go into the underpass (on Sussex Street) and where are you? You know there is a city centre but there is no clear route to get there.”
Craig Hedges, of Hampshire County Council property services, said he understood the landowners are talking to each other about future development.
Around 50 people attended the thought-provoking meeting at the United Church and responded to the suggestions by Messrs Bulkeley and Ashe.
Angela Sealey, vice chairman of WinACC, asked: “What would we like to see in this area? What would excite us? Do we want a theatre, an opera house? Do we want more exciting public spaces or more interesting commercial space? It is a challenge of thinking differently about these spaces.”
David Jones said: “Let’s concentrate on what is successful, forget offices. Athena House has been empty for two years. It’s education, culture and leisure.”
Ester Hack, of nearby Stockbridge Road, said: “We need to think about what people need. I would be happy to make the area a park. The idea of nine storey buildings is horrendous.”
Eleanor Waterhouse, a trust member, said: “We need more leisure facilities. There is nothing for young people to do in Winchester.”
City councillor Chris Pines said economically Winchester was doing well compared to other towns, judging by the lack of empty shops on the High Street.
John Hearn, city council planner, said nothing would happen without a detailed action plan.
Mr Bulkeley believes there are three areas of Winchester ripe for development: the railway station, Bar End and the bottom end of Winnall.
A spokesman for Network Rail said: “We are always keen to carry out improvement work at stations for the benefit of passengers but are not involved in discussions to develop land at or near Winchester station. Work is due to start imminently to install a new footbridge inside the station which will improve accessibility to the platforms and concourse for passengers.”