A NATIONAL agency has heavily criticised plans for Winchester’s new sports centre, despite the city council saying it has worked with them throughout the process.

Sport England (SE) has published its comments on the designs, which are currently in the process of seeking planning permission, and issued a “holding objection”.

The nine-page critique includes feedback from several other sporting bodies and concerns range from a lack of detail over mitigation measure for the loss of a sports pitch, to the size of the hall and its glazing.

However, the document does include some good news for the council, with support from England Squash and Swim England.

The main concern of Sport England appears to be over the loss of a football pitch. Owen Neal, SE planning manager, told city council planners: “The Football Foundation and Hants County FA comment that they object to the proposal on the basis of the lack of detail about the required mitigation package to compensate for the loss of pitch provision.

“Although a letter of comfort has been provided to the league by the council, this is not considered sufficiently robust. Sport England would have expected more detail at this stage.”

Another significant issue with Sport England was the eight-court sports hall, which has proved to be contentious since the decision to reject a 12-court hall last year.

Mr Neal said: “Our initial suggestion was a 12-court hall to allow for future growth across all sports. Currently the proposed design is two metres short to accommodate hockey.” He added that Winchester Hockey Club “is a growing and aspiration club” which has seen a 34 per cent growth in membership over the past two seasons.

Meanwhile, Badminton England also objected, saying the proposals “do not provide a functional design that will facilitate the growing local demand.”

Mr Neal said: “Daylight in sports halls is something that none of the indoor court sports support. It produces glare, solar gain, and impairs the ability of players to discriminate shuttles, balls and other team members in full hall games.

“The suggestion that black-out blinds can be installed, and can be installed and operated by staff when required is not considered appropriate.”

Other concerns related to the “lack of spectator viewing capacity”, a level of changing facilities that “would seem to be below what is needed”, and the lack of group changing rooms that “would be needed on child protection grounds for schools and other parties of young people. This is a major concern.”

Despite the holding objection, Sport England did concede an improvement on the current River Park Leisure Centre.

Mr Neal said: “While we recognise that the proposed design does raise issues in relation to compliance with Sport England technical design guidance, especially with regard to the design. layout and specification of the sports hall, over all we consider the proposal represents an improvement on the existing provision.”

In response, Cllr Lisa Griffiths, portfolio holder for health and wellbeing, said: “Detailed discussions have been held with Sport England and national governing bodies over the past two years. A detailed technical submission was received on July 25 and Sport England has asked for further information regarding sports pitches and clarification of some design elements.”

The feedback comes after the council leisure centre committee last week agreed not to make any chances to the current planning application, which is due to go before a planning committee in September.