MORE than a thousand people took to the streets of Winchester on Saturday to protest development which they fear will wreck the historic city.

The Winchester March shut down streets as campaigners chanted and waved placards denouncing city councillors who they say are wrecking the city's unique heritage and refusing to listen to the public by charging ahead with major developments.

The masses marched from North Walls Recreation Ground to the Winchester Guildhall to the sound of horns, drums and chants of "we want change".

Pressure groups at the march included Save the Rec - against plans to rebuild River Park Leisure Centre on green space - and the Winchester Deserves Better group demanding a rethink on the £165m Silver Hill redevelopment of shops and houses.

Residents also protested Winchester City Council's lack of transparency and consultation on projects including the Chesil Street Extra Care scheme, the 2,000-home Barton Farm estate and the major regeneration of the Station Approach area.

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In a letter to the Hampshire Chronicle this week, Winchester City Council leader Rob Humby said the authority had done a "good job" in taking on residents' views.

"Consultation is important," he said, "but I doubt it will ever lead to consensus. Let us not pretend we can put our heads in the sand or somehow hold back the tides of change."

March organisers stressed that the campaign supports development in principle but demands better consultation on the way schemes are designed and implemented.

Chants of "save our city" went up as crowds descended on the Guildhall.

At the steps of the council's base, with catering staff looking on nervously from inside, campaign leaders rallied the crowd with music, dancing and speeches.

Addressing the throng, campaigner Rosemary Burns said Winchester was a "jewel among cities."

She said: "It boasts a Norman cathedral, medieval churches and buildings such as Hyde Gate, St Bartholomew's and St Cross, it has what is said to be the oldest high street in Northern Europe ... and the Brooks Centre.

"The council failed to listen to the public in its so-called consultation. We want the enhancement of our heritage, not destruction. We want the preservation of our High Street, our city markets, prosperous and independent traders.

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"We want open spaces for people to meet, eat, chat, stroll, play, view, admire, appreciate and enjoy the beauty of their historic surroundings.

"We want you to hear us, Winchester City Council - we want change."

Watching on, city housing boss Cllr Ian Tait said the demonstration was "entirely negative" and didn't make any suggestions for improving the controversial schemes.

But organiser Mike Caldwell said more marches will follow if the city council doesn’t change its ways.

Cllr Kim Gottlieb, who is taking his own Tory administration to London’s High Court over the Silver Hill scheme, said he was “delighted” with the turnout.

He told the Chronicle: "For some unfathomable reason the council thinks it can just crack on, push these things and just ignore people. All the people are on this side. Winchester wants change and Winchester will get change."