IT has been out-of-bounds to builders for six years as a county council car park.

Entry to the site in Bar End Road, Winchester, is strictly limited to council employees who enjoy free parking.

Now the council has granted itself permission for a third time to continue using the land as a temporary staff car park even though there are three park and ride sites nearby.

UKIP group leader Ray Finch said the two-acre plot on the edge of the city could be sold to protect frontline services and jobs.

The newly-elected councillor said: “Winchester is very congested. It is an ancient city and parking is at a premium.

“But council officers – and members – should be treated exactly the same as everyone else. There is also parking under the county council headquarters for all members, including myself. If we are looking at ways of keeping costs down perhaps officers and especially councillors should pay to park like everyone else or get the train.”

Meanwhile city councillor Chris Pines has called for alternative uses of the site to be considered.

The Labour group leader said: “We need as many brownfield sites as we can get for housing. We also need more park and ride sites. Has the council considered other uses?”

In a supporting statement submitted with the planning application, the council said it was better “in the current economic climate” to use the land as a car park then leave it vacant.

It says the aim is to sell the land or redevelop it within the next two years.

But the Hampshire Chronicle understands there have already been expressions of interest in buying the land.

Its use as a “temporary” staff car park dates back to 2007 when the county council HQ had a £40m makeover. It replaced staff parking spaces on the top deck of Ashburton Court which were turned into offices.

In March 2011, the council extended the permission for a further two years “to manage the disruption of Andover Road rail bridge closure and to relieve pressure on the town centre and the new park and ride car parking.”

Now the council says its continued use as a car park will reduce congestion and air pollution in the city centre.

Conservative Fiona Mather, who sits on both the county and city council, supported its continued use as a staff car park.

She said: “The county council is the biggest employer in Winchester and at least it keeps their cars on the edge of the city.

“It is probably the best solution as park and ride at Bar End gets busy.”

Liberal Democrat Martin Tod, also a “double hatter, said: “We need a proper plan for the whole of the Bar End area to work out how we can use available land most effectively for jobs, housing and for leisure.”