WINCHESTER civic chiefs are coming under pressure to change direction over the future of Silver Hill.

Scores of local people have signed a letter urging the city council to make culture and history the main plank of the development instead of shops and flats.

More than 60 have signed a letters to the Hampshire Chronicle, on page 22.

A private meeting between city councillors on the informal policy group and architects JTP this Monday has been postponed because of councillor unavailability.

Campaign leader Tim Fell: "The main issue isn’t that they’re excluding the public and press from their meeting, though I do wonder whether they see the irony of doing that in the middle of the biggest exercise in public participation Winchester had seen in decades. The main issue is that, whether they take their decisions in public or in private, they take the right decisions for Winchester."

Mike Caldwell added: "The support we’ve gathered for this letter in little more than a week is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s vital that people and organisations we’ve missed contact councillors and express that support to them. It’s equally important, for the sake of open democratic debate, that those who disagree with us also make their views known. The council must be given no chance to overlook the wishes of the people of Winchester yet again."

Prof Bill Lucas, trustee of the English Project, which is seeking a permanent site to celebrate the English language, said: "For 14 years, the city council thought that it would boost Winchester’s economy through a retail mix similar to those offered by Eastleigh, Southampton and Basingstoke. This is completely misunderstands Winchester and is a huge missed opportunity.

"An alliance of organisations has credible plans for a new cultural centre which will celebrate the extraordinary historical and linguistic role Winchester has played in the evolution of our nation. For too many people Alfred’s role is reduced to being a statue at the bottom of town. But, just as Shakespeare is for Stratford, all things Alfred can become a compelling reason for visiting our great city."

A council statement said: "We don't yet know the recommendations that JTP will put forward at this private meeting. The IPG's job is to look into their interpretation of the public consultation feedback. At this stage of the process no decisions have been made on the direction of this project."