SPORTING chiefs have withdrawn their objection to Winchester’s planned £38m leisure centre following talks with the city council.

It comes after a ‘holding objection’ lodged by Sport England sparked a strong rebuttal by the city councillor leading the project, Lisa Griffiths.

Now, following additional details being supplied by the council, it has been described as a “significant improvement” on existing facilities.

Owen Neal, Sport England planning manager, told the council: “We are satisfied that the proposed new leisure centre will represent a significant improvement on the existing facilities at River Park, including an improved and increased swimming offer and sports hall space.

“The further information provided demonstrates that the impact on the playing field can be suitably mitigated in accordance with the council’s recently adopted playing pitch strategy.

“On that basis, Sport England considers that the benefits to sport arising from the new facility outweigh the detriment caused by the loss of playing field and we are content to withdraw our holding objection.”

As previously reported, Sport England had criticised the scheme for the Garrison Ground in Bar End, which is set to open in 2021.

The nine-page critique sent to planners included feedback from several other sporting bodies, with concerns ranging from a lack of detail over mitigation measures for the loss of a sports pitch, to the size of the sports hall and its glazing.

Mr Neal said: “Sport England is content that a proper assessment of the qualitative issues affecting the playing field/pitches at King George V has been carried out, and that a suitable scheme for improvement works and ongoing maintenance has been identified.”

Cllr Lisa Griffiths, chairman of the leisure centre committee, said: “As I’m sure you can imagine, we are delighted as it shows we’ve listened to the sporting comments and the measures around those concerns are acceptable.”

Previously she had described Sport England’s comments as baffling and “appallingly inaccurate”.

The scheme is set to go to the council planning committee next month.