WINCHESTER civic chief Keith Wood believes opposition to his River Park Leisure plans is politically motivated.

Cllr Wood says the campaign to stop the rebuild of the centre onto parkland at River Park has become a political football.

“I think there is a move to derail the whole thing. All I want to do is build a new leisure centre for the people of Winchester,” he said.

Cllr Wood said the window of favourable economic circumstances of cheap building costs and low interest rates was beginning to close. “The rising costs have probably added a million to the scheme.”

He wrote to Lib Dem Cllr Martin Tod after the latter raised concerns about the lack of consultation between the city and county councils about an alternative site at Bar End.

Cllr Tod said a Freedom of Information Act request had shown little contact between the two authorities.

In a letter to Cllr Wood, he said: “The level of engagement with the county council – as a major landowner at Bar End and as a possible supporter of new sports facilities for the county and the city – is not even close to what I would have expected.”

Keith Chapman, Executive Member for Culture, Recreation and Countryside at the county council, wrote to Cllr Tod: “We have not been formally approached by the city council to make land available at Bar End. Should there be such an approach, then we would be interested in having a three-way meeting to discuss the matter in more detail.”

But Cllr Wood rebutted the Tod claim: “He is talking rubbish. We have been talking to council leader Roy Perry. I spoke to then-leader Ken Thornber about its museums site at Bar End and tried to buy it from them. But the county needs to retain it so it is not an option.”

In a letter to Cllr Tod, Cllr Wood wrote: “I had heard rumours that some Lib Dems are determined to derail the Council’s plans to provide new leisure facilities for the residents of Winchester.”

Last week, a local resident complained about the allegedly “highly irregular” handling of a contract to run the centre.

Martin Wilson there was “potential maladministration” in the way DC Leisure had the contract to run the centre extended in 2009.

Campaigners also say the possible discovery of a bone from King Alfred just yards from the centre was further argument against the scheme.