THE operator of Winchester’s new £38million leisure centre is set to be decided next week.

However, the identity of the preferred firm is not yet being announced, referred to in a council report only as ‘Bidder B’.

According to a report due to go before Winchester City Council’s leisure centre committee on Monday, January 14, councillors will be asked to endorse the evaluation process and sign off on entering into a deal with ‘Bidder B’.

The report states that, if approved, the deal will be for 15 years from the date of open – expected to be in 2021 – with a possible five-year extension if all goes well.

The process of evaluating bids from potential operators for the leisure centre, which will be based on the Garrison Ground in Bar End, has been ongoing since early November.

According to the report, ‘Bidder B’ was preferred with a score of 90% against the council’s selection criteria, ‘Bidder A’ scoring 73.3%. Neither have been identified by the city council.

The news follows the announcement in September of developers Willmott Dixon as the builders for the centre. Work is expected to get under way in the spring.

As previously reported, the multi-million pound scheme, which will replace the out-dated River Park Leisure Centre, will include a flexible 50m swimming pool, along with a learner pool and splash area, as well as – controversially – an eight-court sports hall.

The site will also feature eight treatment and therapy rooms, a gym with 200 stations, two large studios for exercise classes, a spin studio with around 60 bikes and a cafe.

However, the project has long been criticised by opposition Lib Dem councillors following the decision to reduce the sports hall from 12 courts in size to eight.

Planning permission for the centre was granted at a packed planning committee meeting in October.