A CITY where 'cars are guests' and which is good for children.

Or a city that develops as a business centre with a steady growth in population and house building?

A city where pedestrians and cyclists hold sway, or motorists?

The contrasting visions for the future were thrashed out at a conference in Winchester on Thursday.

Civic chiefs, business people, community activists and environmental campaigners met to discuss ways the city, often hailed as the nicest place to live in Britain, can evolve.

There are so many differing views that cannot be reconciled that creates distrust and tensions, as seen over the Silver Hill scheme and how to manage traffic.

The city council has made it clear it wants to see the city develop as a business centre but its scheme for Silver Hill collapsed and its new plans for a major development at Station Approach were derailed on Wednesday night after councillors voted to reject the current design.

At the conference city council leader Stephen Godfrey tackled the dilemma head-on and said the Winchester district would be under immense pressure over the next few years with 12-13,000 homes due to be built in the next 15 years.

"Are we going to find jobs for them, or will they all be commuters? Is Winchester going to become a non-working area? How should Winchester respond to the challenges? Pulling up the drawbridge and hiding behind the ramparts to prevent more people coming here, resisting development or embracing the inevitable change?"

He argued that standing still will see the city stagnate.

But many people do think the city should resist house building and concentrate on its culture, tourism and hospitality sectors.

George Ferguson, an architect and independent mayor of Bristol from 2012 to last May, said he felt strongly about "making a place" building a sense of community "We should make a city that is good for children. If you make a city good for children, you make a city good for everybody, a sustainable city with good clean air."

He said reducing parking in the city centre would cause a furore but would quickly see an increase in people wanting to be in the centre. "People think life is going to stop if they cannot drive from A to B. No, it doesn't, it improves."

Nicholas Falk, of URBED Trust, said Winchester needed to grow to reduce house prices but transport policy should concentrate on encouraging cycling and "treating cars as guests."

The conference heard suggestions for car parking to be cut by 80 per cent, even if just for a short trial period, and congestion charging as in London.

David Ashe, of Winchester Action on Climate Change, said: "Reduce car parking by 80 per cent and see what happens. We need to be doing things so people can get engaged. There are parts of Winchester that have been consulted to death."

Another idea was that in the suburbs new homes could be much taller than in the city centre where two and three storeys predominate.

Local roads could be closed on Sundays so people could reclaim the streets, an idea such as Play Street launched in St Catherine's Road, Highcliffe, earlier this year.

Simon Finch, assistant director (environment) at the city council, said: "Winchester is very challenging for planners. It is safeguarding and preserving what people think is great about Winchester but also being able to develop it so it remains that way for the next 1,000 years."

Chris Turner, of Winchester Business Improvement District, said the city was booming with only only five per cent vacancy in the 110 units on the High Street. There are problems including high rents. Ernest Jones the jewellers are paying £200,000 a year for their High Street shop. Silver Hill which would have provided 25 new shops and reduced rents has collapsed . Seven offices had been lost to residential development.

Simon Hake, chartered surveyor with Charters, said there was a shortage of office space with developers preferring residential as they can charge £500 per square foot for a home compared to £275 for offices.

Mr Hake said the council may even have to consider some form of subsidy or making available publicly-owned land for offices.

Keith Leaman, chairman of the City of Winchester Trust, preservation watchdogs, said the city had to accept growth but needed a strategy "so people understand where it's going to go."

Catherine Turness, executive director of the BID, said a big issue was "how to get people to accept that Winchester needs to change."

Cllr James Byrnes, portfolio holder for transport, said it was vital to get public support for any radical policy and asked: "Will people in cars adopt to Winchester or will they go to Eastleigh?

"We could ban traffic from the Westgate to Winnall or build a ten-storey car park on Middle Brook Street. It's about finding somewhere in the middle."

Phil Gagg, of Greening Fulflood, responded: "Nobody wants to stop people driving into Winchester, it's about driving into Winchester in a different way," saying he favours closing central car parks with drivers walking in from Chesil Street and the Cattle Market.

Paul Bulkeley, of Snug Architects, spoke about the fundamental problem of how to get anything done. "The need to build consensus and whether that is realistic. The tension between consensus and leadership. We struggle with that in Winchester. Leaders get things done."

Colette Cherry, assistant vice chancellor at Winchester University, suggested a 'czar' to drive through a vision for Winchester.

Mr Ferguson said: "I would stop worrying about the economy of Winchester. The economy of Winchester is very successful. It will continue to be successful. It will not die."

"Winchester big challenge is the huge differential between wealthy and poor. If you are poor in Winchester you are a damn sight poorer than if poor in the northern cities. Winchester will be much more sustainable if everybody is included."

The event was attended by around 80 invited guests at the West Downs Campus. They included Trinity, Peter Symonds College students, the university student union, people from Stanmore and Highcliffe, Winchester Deserves Better and SALT, the sports campaigners.