WINCHESTER civic chiefs are to hold a public exhibition over their controversial plans for leisure facilities.

Proposals to redevelop the ageing River Park Leisure Centre have sparked anger as they would involve taking a large chunk of the playing fields.

Council leader Keith Wood told cabinet yesterday: “There will be four options: new build at Bar End using the playing fields; new build at North Walls either a) using the tennis courts, artificial turf pitch and a strip of land alongside or b) using the tennis courts, artificial turf pitch and a significant part of the existing leisure centre site; refurbish the existing centre.

“Contrary to reports nothing will be considered that would prevent the bonfire taking place, or impact on the rugby field. The council’s aim is to provide high-quality leisure facilities in Winchester for the coming years at a cost we can afford.”

He added: “A proposed list of the facilities needed for a centre was put forward some time ago and, apart from suggestions concerning a 50m pool, we have had little comment from the public or councillors. Consequently, we are working on the assumption that the list is broadly what is both needed and wanted.

“Council needs to come to a decision soon on which of these options they will take. Apart from the uncertainty of the present situation the condition of the existing centre may need large sums spent on it just to keep it going.”

Emma Back, of Fit for the Future, has been pressing for major investment in better facilities at Bar End including a 50m swimming pool.

She said: “There are a core set of facilities that are needed, if you don’t have those then it doesn’t matter where you build it.”

Ms Back said was a huge, growing and latent demand for sports facilities that were not currently being recognised by the council.

James McConnachie, spokesman for Save the Rec, said: “We would be pleased the council is considering four options but the central problem remains; the options have not been properly researched, so voting on them would be rushed and disastrous for Winchester.

“Cllr Wood continues to refer to a ‘strip of land’. We feel that is misleading. It is much more than a strip of land,” added Mr McConnachie.

The exhibition will be held at the leisure centre, the Guildhall and online on dates to be fixed.