CHANGES to a document outlining civic chiefs’ vision for major changes in central Winchester caused sparks to fly between councillors debating it.

Plans for how the ‘Silver Hill’ area of the city could change under the Central Winchester Regeneration project were widely praised by councillors at a meeting on Monday.

However, following a ‘legal challenge’, the wording used in the draft supplementary planning document (SPD) was altered, with ‘should’ becoming ‘may’, ‘requires’ becoming ‘expected’ and ‘must’ becoming ‘could’, to name a few.

As previously reported, council leader Caroline Horrill revealed at a meeting last month that there had been a “legal challenge”, but that it would not adversely affect the scheme, following advice from lawyers.

Details were limited but Cllr Horrill said the upshot of the dispute was that the framework could not be too “prescriptive”, and needed to be flexible.

She said the council legal advice was that their SPD was “robust and defendable”.

Liberal Democrat councillor Martin Tod questioned that at Monday’s city council overview and scrutiny committee meeting.

He said: “Are we about to accept weaker language than that in our local planning document?

“I think we need to look closely at ourselves in terms of openness and transparency. I think we have fallen short.

“One of the things residents would want me to be doing is make sure the language is as strong as it can be within the law.

“When can we see this [legal] advice? Will we see this advice?”

The changes were defended by Cllr Horrill, who described herself as a “cheerleader” for the project, and council chief executive Laura Taylor, who said: “Even if the [legal] letter had not been received, the council would have taken legal advice.”

Other councillors on the committee also defended the scheme, with one accusing Cllr Tod of trying to score “brownie points”.

Cllr Linda Gemmell said: “I deplore the political points scoring that has gone on,” while Cllr Eileen Berry added: “I would say brownie points scoring has been done tonight, and it saddens me.”

The draft SPD received support from both sides of the political divide at the end of the meeting. Former mayor and Conservative councillor David McLean said: “I think it’s a fantastic document,” while Lib Dem leader Cllr Lucille Thompson said: “It’s been a fantastic consultation exercise.”

However, Cllr Thompson did add: “It’s a shame it had to be watered down.”

Previously scheduled to go before cabinet for approval last night, the draft SPD is now expected to be approved on June 20.