WINCHESTER civic chiefs were tonight poised to allow the developer of Silver Hill to submit a revised planning application.
Critics of the £150 million redevelopment warn that would be a vital and irrevocable step which will see the city council surrender control of the scheme.
Henderson wants to put aside the approved plans from 2009 and reduce the number of homes from 307 to 184, drop 100 affordable homes, scrap the bus station, cut public car parking from 330 to 279 and increase retail space by 55 per cent.
A public exhibition of the new plans will be held in the Guildhall Courtyard from 12 noon today until Friday, July 18.
Cllr Kim Gottlieb, at the overview and scrutiny committee on Monday, made a strong attack on the council saying the public was being misled.
He is fighting a last-ditch campaign pressing for a delay to the plans for further consideration, arguing it is too overbearing and will ruin the city centre.
In a highly unusual move, Cllr Gottlieb, a Conservative, wrote a report for calling for an independent investigation into the handling of the scheme.
His report was only received on Monday morning but committee chairman Chris Pines allowed it to be discussed.
The hard-hitting report said the “council lacked the requisite experience and competence in the management of the project….Members both inside and outside of the Cabinet are not being properly advised, and the fact that the public too is being misled, is a major flaw in the process.”
But others criticised his stance. Cllr Therese Evans, Liberal Democrat, said: “I understand his passion, and everyone is entitled to an opinion, but some of his language is unnecessary.”
Chief executive Simon Eden told the Chronicle: “I agree with Cllr Evans’ comment that it’s a shame if some individuals feel they have to resort to such accusations without backing them up.”
Other councillors also criticised aspects of Silver Hill.
Cllr Robert Sanders, Conservative, said it would be “commercial suicide” for the council to allow the new Henderson application, as until that point the council has ‘absolute discretion’ and control over any alterations.
He criticised the lack of financial information that would allow councillors to make an informed decision.
Cllr Malcolm Wright, Conservative, said he was concerned about car parking as the new plans had fewer public parking spaces.
Cllr Gottlieb also questioned why 100 affordable homes were deemed to be unviable. He said: “The only reason offered by the council to explain why in 2012 a 35 per cent affordable housing contribution was financially viable but in 2014 no affordable housing is viable, is because the developer intends to spend more money on the materials for the building elevations. How little were they planning to spend before?
“When you factor in the cost/value benefits of taking out the bus station and adding in 50,000 square feet of more retail space, plus the way the market has improved, this explanation lacks any credibility.”
Another controversial change will be the likelihood that the street markets will stay in the High Street and Middle Brook Street instead of relocating to The Broadway.
Deputy council leader Victoria Weston said the scheme needed to be updated and improved. “I’m reassured that we are advised this represents a good deal for the council and the city. Delay will achieve nothing. It will be a dereliction of our duty. What is so bad about a scheme that has retailers queuing up to take space?”
Kevin Warren, head of estates, said a new scheme now would take four to five years to bring to fruition.
The City of Winchester Trust, preservation watchdogs, supports the scheme. Michael Carden, vice-chairman, said: “I consider the height acceptable in this off-High Street area and believe it will be absorbed into and become an asset to the character and status of Winchester. There are many examples of high narrow streets elsewhere that are taken for granted and often enjoyed.
“Cllr Gottlieb does not acknowledge any of the benefits such as the proposed improvements to the Broadway and Friarsgate, the regeneration of this seedy and under-used area as a whole, and the introduction to Winchester of combined heat and power.”
Former city councillor Patrick Davies criticised the removal of affordable housing. He branded it as “social cleansing, ensuring that increasingly only the wealthy will be able to live in the city centre.”
He told the committee: “The new proposals are a dramatic departure from the 2009 approved scheme. Personally I have never believed a whole raft of private meetings, with no public record, between some council representatives and developers are a proper, responsible or democratic way to proceed. It means that many key decisions have been effectively reached in advance of this very limited public involvement at the eleventh hour.”
A report on the retail impact of Silver Hill has been prepared by Nathaniel Lichfield and Partners. It says the development will elevate Winchester “into the top 100 centres”.
Silver Hill will attract big names to the city, such as House of Fraser, Gap, BHS, Burtons, Dorothy Perkins, H&M, TK Maxx and Topman.
Initially Silver Hill will capture a big chunk of the predicted growth in Winchester trade but by 2026 the benefits will be shared across the city centre, the report said.