PLANS for Winchester’s new £38million leisure centre have been given the go-ahead, despite strong criticism from opposition councillors.
Planning permission for the Bar End scheme, which will see the new centre built on the Garrison Ground to replace the out-dated River Park Leisure Centre, was signed off by Winchester City Council’s planning committee yesterday by six votes to one.
As previously reported, the multi-million pound scheme will include a flexible 50m swimming pool, along with a learner pool and splash area, as well as – controversially – an eight-court sports hall.
The site will also feature eight treatment and therapy rooms, a gym with 200 stations, two large studios for exercise classes, a spin studio with around 60 bikes and a cafe.
However, the project has long been criticised by opposition Lib Dem councillors following the decision to reduce the sports hall from 12 courts in size to eight.
During the meeting, the facility’s green credentials were also called into question after councillors heard the carbon footprint would be higher than that at the existing River Park Leisure, although that was put down to the size of the new building, rather than inefficiencies.
Conservative portfolio holder for environment Cllr Jan Warwick added that there would in fact be a 27% reduction in carbon emissions per square metre at the Bar End leisure centre, compared to River Park.
Commenting on the decision, Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Lucille Thompson said: “The leisure centre is an incredibly important project for the area and the city – but the project is on the wrong track and today’s decision doesn’t affect that.
“I’m genuinely concerned that the planning committee has just approved an impractical unaffordable design that won’t meet local needs and will never be built.
“Planning is only one of the decisions that has to be taken – and there are a whole lot of other decisions being taken where the project is going badly wrong.
“Of course, we are disappointed by today’s result. The objectors made a very strong case. The plan to tackle traffic remains wholly inadequate. And the plan for the site as a whole is still incredibly weak. If the planning committee had refused it, it would have been a great opportunity to rethink the plans.
“We all want to see a new sports and leisure centre built at Bar End, but it does need to be a centre that is fit for the next thirty or forty years. It just won’t cope with a growing population – particularly when the council wants to be supporting more people to be physically active. Clubs will also be left in the same boat as before, looking around for venues to hire.”
The plans had attracted concerns from some residents, with 61 letters of objection submitted on issues ranging from traffic and highways, flooding and emissions to the facilities mix and usability of the sports hall, while there was criticism from Cycling UK and climate change campaigners WinACC.
Following the approval, portfolio holder for health and wellbeing and chairman of the leisure centre committee Cllr Lisa Griffiths said: “This is absolutely fantastic news and I am really delighted that the project has been granted planning approval.
Council in u-turn over new £30m sports hubCouncil in u-turn over new £30m sports hub
“This outcome reflects all of the effort and work that has gone into our thorough and inclusive engagement and resulting high-quality design.
“There is still some more detailed work that needs to be done but this is such a positive outcome for the project and we look forward to starting work to deliver this fantastic facility.”
“We could not have achieved this without the input from residents, clubs, council officers and consultants – we are hugely grateful and thank each and every one of you for your input and support.”
Mike Lawless, director of LA architects which designed the centre, said: “As the architects and lead consultant on this project, LA is delighted that the Winchester Sport and Leisure Park has passed this key planning milestone. The journey from the start has been one of engagement and dialogue with the people of the Winchester district in the development of the design that will now move forward.
“We will continue to develop a high-quality, elegant and sophisticated leisure centre for all people, and one that encourages as many forms of activity and social interaction as possible.”
Winchester City Council plans to complete the centre in early 2021, with construction expected to start in spring 2019.
Source: Hampshire Chronicle