Sports campaigners urge Winchester councillors to rethink leisure centre plans (From Andover Advertiser)
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Sports campaigners urge Winchester councillors to rethink leisure centre plans
CALLS have been made for Winchester civic chiefs to rethink the location of a major new £25m leisure centre and build it on the edge of the city.
A plea has also been made for an architectural competition to design a stadium and create “a stunning gateway to Winchester as a fitting tribute to the Olympic legacy.”
As reported, the city council is proposing to build a replacement leisure centre almost double the size of the existing one on a playing field at River Park.
The old building will be demolished to make way for a car park twice as big as the current one.
But the council's preferred site has come under fire from critics, including Fit for the Future, an umbrella group of sports clubs campaigning for improved facilities in the city, who argue Bar End is a better location.
The city council's consultants, Savills, looked at both locations in depth and concluded Bar End had more complicated planning and landownership issues and it was easier to walk to River Park.
Speaking at Cabinet, Emma Back, of Winchester Fit for the Future, argued Bar End was a more suitable site.
She said: “It's a huge area, with great potential. It's already home to an excellent athletics facility and multiple sports pitches. There's space for new sports facilities and complementary developments, such as health and educational facilities or a new hotel.
“If well designed, this hub at Bar End would create hundreds of new jobs, regenerate the east of the city and form the basis for a district energy network.”
Glenn Shepherd, chief aquatics officer for Winchester City Penguins Club, said the new centre should include a 50-metre pool - bigger than the 25-metre pool currently proposed.
Chris Higgins, former director of estates at the University of Winchester, asked why the Savills report had not looked at the Garrison Ground at Bar End as a possible location - and only King George V playing field.
Mr Higgins challenged council chiefs, saying: “So let's have some vision with a master plan for these sites and commission an architectural competition for a quality stadium at Bar End with green credentials to create a stunning gateway into Winchester as a fitting tribute to the Olympic legacy.”
Tommy Geddes, former vice-principal of the University of Winchester, criticised Savills for concluding River Park “a dead end at the end of a narrow road” was more accessible than Bar End just off the M3 and close to three park and ride sites.
But Steve Tilbury, corporate director of operations, defended the consultants' report. He said playing fields at Bar End were owned by Tesco and the city council only managed the site.
Mr Tilbury said if the city council offered “a ridiculous sized sum of money” the supermarket chain may consider the offer but it was promoting other options, including housing development.
Council officers said they had considered other sites, including the former Serco depot, at Bar End but they were either too small or unavailable.
Mr Tilbury said: “I think there is substantial support for North Walls (River Park) as a location and it would not be unambitious.”
Deputy leader Cllr Rob Humby added: “We are trying to find the best site and provide as much as we can for what we can afford.”
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