TRUST in local politicians has been damaged by the issue of the proposed expansion of Winchester’s main leisure centre.

Opposition city councillors alleged public confidence had been eroded over the possible development on the cricket pitch at River Park, revealed by the Chronicle earlier this year and greeted with strong protest from people living in Hyde.

The city council is launching a public consultation from Monday (Nov 18) over the future of the leisure centre as well as developing a new one at Bar End and refurbishing the current centre.

Cllr Robert Hutchison, for the Liberal Democrats, said at Council last Wednesday: “A great deal of public trust has been lost in their process and the main reason the public meeting (at the Guildhall on September 26) descended into shambles was not that questions only came from one part of Winchester. It was quite clear questions came from across the district. The main reason it descended into shambles was that people didn’t trust what they were being told.”

Council leader Keith Wood disagreed: “I do not accept that public trust has been lost. It is that sort of remark that causes problems of getting the true message across. If some councillors did not use this as a political football we come out with a better answer at the end.

“I don’t understand why he thinks the meeting was a shambles. A large number of people with a particular agenda dominated the whole meeting. Those people who wanted to speak were not allowed to do so because they were shouted down. Why stand up to be shouted down when nobody is going to listen?”

Cllr Wood said: “We sell 600,000 tickets a year at the leisure centre, who is speaking up for them?.”

He added: “It won’t be easy decision. We have been consulting on River Park for several years and I think we are reaching the end. I know some councillors want more information. Consultations have to have an end date when a decision needs to be made. Further delay will increase costs and possibly prevent the council from doing anything.”

Tory councillor James Byrnes said: “Whilst views of the residents living locally are very important the issues affect the entire district and members should balance all considerations not just local ones.”

Cllr Wood said: “As far as Tesco (landowner at Bar End) is concerned we have made several attempts to get in touch before the meeting took place. Tesco PR people got in touch very quickly and since then we have been in discussions with them at officer level. We have not had a response from them. We are going to write to them to set out our position.”

Meanwhile civic campaigners want answers to questions over the various options.

One option, proposed in a report by Savills to the council, states: “The building would occupy most of the area of the existing cricket pitch resulting in complete change in character of this part of the site from open recreation ground to built development.”

The City of Winchester Trust is calling for more research, including developing land at Bar End, before a decision is taken.

In a statement the trust queried the effect of increasing the size of the centre and doubling the size of the car park off Gordon Road. It also asks that if Bar End is chosen how much of the cost could be offset by selling the River Park site to developers.

The public exhibition runs from 1pm on Monday (Nov 18) to Monday December 2 at the River Park Leisure Centre and the Guildhall.

Staff will be on hand to talk to visitors on Tuesday and Wednesday, November 26-27 (2pm-8pm) at the Guildhall.

The four options are: new build at Bar End; new build at River Park 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.