WINCHESTER civic chiefs are looking to invest £6 million in boosting start-up businesses across the district.

The city council has set aside the seven-figure sum to buy property from which to launch at least one ‘enterprise centre,’ with the potential to support an estimated 100-200 jobs.

The initiative aims to help new businesses establish themselves before moving on after at most 18 months thus freeing up space for new ones.

One potential building that has been ruled out is Avalon House, the former council planning office, that has been empty for more than five years.

The council is due to make an announcement tomorrow (WED) that it has been let for health-related use.

City councillor Stephen Godfrey, portfolio holder for finance, said: “We are looking at opportunities to buy properties in Winchester or elsewhere such as Alresford or Bishop’s Waltham. We would make them available as small start-up centres to encourage enterprise on short leases on favourable terms to help grow their business, a kind of incubator.”

He said the background was the need to ensure Winchester retained a diverse economy and does not become a dormitory town for the retired or commuters.

Cllr Godfrey added: “We need to make sure than high-quality employment is attracted to Winchester, money is generated and spent locally, there will be more business rates and people do not have to commute elsewhere.

“It will give us more sustainability so the next time there is an economic downturn more firms will survive.

“We are trying to make sure Winchester does not become just a heritage centre, stuck in aspic. We have to make sure we retain the character without losing its economic strength.”

He said in the long-term it was unclear whether the council would look to sell the centres or see them as generating revenue.

The council has been in talks with the Winchester Business Improvement District, chamber of commerce and the Solent and M3 Local Enterprise Partnerships.

One potential site could be the Woolstaplers’ Hall in Silver Hill as well as buildings on the Winnall industrial estate.

One million pounds was set aside the spending this financial year, with £5m in 2014-15. It looks unlikely the £1m will be spent in the next three months, said Cllr Godfrey.