WINCHESTER’S new leisure centre will not cost taxpayers a penny – that’s the claim by civic chiefs after agreeing a deal over the running of the £38m facility.

The operator is yet to be publicly announced by Winchester City Council, but it as been described as an “extraordinary deal for Winchester”, by the city’s finance chief Cllr Guy Ashton.

As previously reported, building work is set to get under way this year, and is expected to be completed in 2021, when it will replace the River Park Leisure Centre.

The multi-million pound scheme 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.

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Cllr Ashton, portfolio holder for finance, said: “We were determined that the new centre should pay for itself over its life – with no taxpayer subsidy – and we are delighted that the work we put in means we have achieved that outcome.

“This is absolutely great news for Winchester and it means the new sport and leisure park can stand on its own feet financially.

“It also very much shows that the new operator had so much faith in the building, the demand for the park, the design and the overall business case, that it was prepared to bid at the very top end of the expected range. I can think of no better vote of confidence in what the Conservative-run city council has achieved at Bar End for the people of Winchester district than this.”

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Cllr Lisa Griffiths, who has been overseeing the project, added: “The quality and strength of this offer reflects the massive amount of engagement we have undertaken, the excellence of the facilities and the iconic design. It means that work can start on the actual construction this spring.”

The preferred bidder, referenced in council reports only as ‘Bidder B’, will be unveiled on January 29, with the full business case being put before the council’s overview and scrutiny committee on January 31.

The deals means the council does not need to rely on any additional financial contribution from Winchester University.

Cllr Griffiths said: “We have worked very closely with the university on these plans and we will, of course, welcome further negotiations on any role it wants to play, but we can go ahead with the construction based on the operator’s bid.

“The city council continues to have a warm relationship with the university and looks forward to working with it on this.”