THE civic chief leading the push to build a new £38m leisure centre in Winchester has hit back at claims the council is ‘about to make a big mistake’.

Cllr Lisa Griffiths, chairman of the Winchester City Council leisure centre committee, branded criticism of the scheme by senior Liberal Democrat councillors as “their latest misguided nonsense”.

It comes a week ahead of the expected decision over whether Winchester Sports and Leisure Centre will be granted planning permission for the Garrison Ground in Bar End.

As previously reported, Lib Dem leader Cllr Lucille Thompson, pictured furthest left, told the Chronicle following a meeting with the Weston Park Blades netball club: “We are particularly concerned that the reduced size of the sports hall will mean that our local clubs such as The Blades, one of the best netball clubs in the country, will struggle to get time or sufficient space at the new centre in order to train its senior squads and, especially, its rising stars.

“Bar End needs to be the best it can be but, at the moment, its capacity falls well short of the facility the district really needs.

“What I am finding is lots of small problems pointed out by all the clubs which amount to one big mistake about to be made by the council.”

Cllr Jackie Porter added: “The city council’s lack of ambition to increase the centre’s capacity to allow for the greater participation at all levels of sport is frustrating the wonderful clubs in our district which all have growing numbers of children on their waiting lists.”

Now, Cllr Griffiths, who is also the Conservative portfolio holder for heath and wellbeing, has hit back, saying: “The Lib Dems don’t seem to understand, or want to understand for political reasons, reports provided on the proposed centre at Bar End so they mislead residents with comments about ‘big mistakes’.”

She added: “A review of the proposed facility has been conducted by Sport England and the national governing bodies of sport and has been given the greenlight.

“We have made provision to enable a far higher level of competition and participation than currently experienced, and we also have space at other facilities around the district.

“New plans are therefore not required but, to be fully transparent, we have undertaken a review. In fact, we have reviewed the position of the sports hall on several occasions, re-running reports to double check (at the cost of taxpayers) to ensure our facts.”

The row comes ahead of a decision on the sports centre planning application, which had been expected to be on next Thursday’s planning committee agenda. Following the release of the agenda, it is now not clear when a decision will be made.