OPPOSITION is simmering to plans to convert a historic Winchester mill into a restaurant for celebrity chef and TV presenter Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

An invitation-only public meeting was attended by around 50 people who heard how Abbey Mill on Colebrook Street could be converted into a base for River Cottage Canteen and Deli.

Many of the people at the Guildhall were strongly opposed to the plans fearing it will bring noise pollution and traffic congestion on the quiet street.

Katie Warnes, of Colebrook Street, said: “I think it’s fair to say we are all fairly horrified. It would be slap bang in the middle of a residential street.

“We have noise from the car park already but the problem is not one thing in isolation, it’s a combination. Another concern is a fire risk with all the listed buildings around. It’s difficult enough to get down this road as it is but with the extra cars it will be impossible and block off emergency access.

“Nobody wants to see it fall into disrepair and I understand the council needs to maximise its opportunities to make money but it’s not an appropriate location. We don’t feel the council has made enough effort to try and get somebody to take in its current office use.”

One resident, who asked not to be named, said: “There is a moral hazard over the change of use. If you want it as a restaurant then River Cottage is as fine as you can get but guarantee is there it will always be River Cottage?

“We accept there will be problems with living in a town centre but this will exacerbate them and make it a permanent problem.”

Guy Ashton, of Colebrook Street, said: “There are two sensible outcomes here. Either the council decides a restaurant in Colebrook Street is not an appropriate place or they say it is and River Cottage is a great tenant but there are a number of controls.

“There need to be controls over things like the number of deliveries and customers, the times of deliveries, opening hours, outdoor seating, smells, rubbish and noise.”

But there is local support for the plan. John Holder, who runs Wolvesey View bed and breakfast in Colebrook Place, said: “I think it is excellent. It will be a wonderful asset for Winchester. I some extent I have a motive as I run a B and B.

“I think Winchester is showing the way of how to get out of the horrible economic mess. For people to be trying to stop this is incredible.

“I am in favour but they will have to do something about traffic. Perhaps they could treat Colebrook Street like College Street with a barrier to stop through traffic.”

A planning application for a change of use will be made “imminently” by the city council, said a spokeswoman. She explained only 50-60 local people were invited “to get people to understand what the planning process is.” River Cottage has signed a lease to take over the building.

Among the noticeable changes will be the creation of outdoor eating under the classical portico of Abbey Mill that fronts on to Abbey Gardens.

Abbey Mill has history as an eaterie. In World War Two it was British Restaurant where servicemen were able to go for meals. More recently it was home to the city council engineers department. It has been empty for several years and needs extensive building work before it can be let.

River Cottage was asked for comment; a spokeswoman said: "The building is owned by the Council and is going through the planning process currently and so this will be managed accordingly by the Council."

Last month when the Chronicle revealed the lease agreement, Rob Love, River Cottage managing director, in a statement said: “River Cottage is pleased to have agreed terms with Winchester City Council on Abbey Mill, subject to planning and licensing approvals.

“Our first priority is to create a dialogue with residents and the local community to share our ambitions and intentions, and we look forward to meeting with them soon."