CIVIC chiefs have been urged to keep an open mind when they consider what will replace River Park Leisure Centre after the new Bar End sports centre was given approval.

It comes as Winchester City Council cabinet members met last week to form a new informal policy group (IPG) to look at the future use of the city centre land, off North Walls.

Council in u-turn over new £30m sports hub Council in u-turn over new £30m sports hub

As well as redeveloping the site of the current building, the cross-party group will also consider how to enhance the Hyde Abbey’s memorial garden, walls and historic monuments.

Addressing the cabinet, opposition Liberal Democrat councillor and deputy mayor Eleanor Bell said: “Before we jump to the assumption it’s a museum or concert venue, let’s keep an open mind.

“In the 1970s there was a lido, this was very, very popular.”

In response, Conservative city council leader Cllr Caroline Horrill said: “Just to be really clear, there is an open mind.

“It’s pretty clear we have some broader elements to look at here.”

As previously reported, support has been growing for a new arts venue in Winchester city centre, which could go on the site.

Richard and Caroline York, retired arts managers, say there is a real need for a music venue with a capacity for 3-400 people, and could also have other arts uses.

That came after council leader Cllr Caroline Horrill said she wants to see a cultural development on the site.

Speaking in August, she said: “I like the idea of a cultural arts use (at River Park). It is next to the School of Art and near the city centre.”

The talk over the future of River Park came just hours after the council’s planning committee voted to approve the new Winchester Sports and Leisure Centre proposals by six votes to one.

During the meeting, the facility’s green credentials were called into question after councillors heard the carbon footprint would be higher than that at the existing River Park Leisure, although that was put down to the size of the new building, rather than inefficiencies.

Conservative portfolio holder for environment Cllr Jan Warwick added that there would in fact be a 27% reduction in carbon emissions per square metre at the Bar End leisure centre, compared to River Park.

Opposition councillors also queued up to criticised the council for missing out on a “fantastic opportunity”.

Cllr Liz Hutchison said: “It is a fantastic opportunity on a very special site, one of outstanding natural beauty, in a fabulous setting at the entrance to this fine city.

“This application is, however, premature. It has been developed in too greater detail too soon without proper consideration of its potential.”

Mary Tiles, of the City of Winchester Trust, added: “The trust has a continuing concern about taking this matter before the (Winchester) Movement Strategy,” while Cllr Anne Weir, the one objector, said: “This was such a great opportunity. I think we have whole-heartedly missed the opportunity.”

However, voting in favour of the development, former mayor Cllr David McLean said: “I fully support this, let’s just get on and build it!”

Following the cabinet meeting on Wednesday, chairman of the River Park IPG Cllr Rose Burns said: “While the building will eventually be replaced, this is just the beginning of the process.

“When the time is right we will be seeking the views of residents and other key stakeholders on the site’s future use in line with the council’s strategic objectives.”