CIVIC chiefs have taken a step closer towards building a new leisure centre for Winchester, although concerns about facilities have been raised again.

It comes as councillors debated the full business case for the £38million project in Bar End – the last hurdle before building work begins on the new facility.

Concerns were also raised about the finances of the scheme – designed to replace the current River Park Leisure Centre – by opposition councillors, although a large portion of the business case relating to those figures was not aired in public due to being commercially sensitive.

Cllr Dominic Hiscock said: “It’s very disappointing... that so much of the discussion about this project is being held in confidential meetings. This is a very public project and the public should be better informed.”

As previously reported, Winchester City Council has been criticised by opposition Liberal Democrat councillors over the size of the new facility’s sports hall, which had previously been proposed at 12 courts in size, before a decision was made to only have eight courts.

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Sandra Bowhay, of Winchester Netball Club, told councillors on Monday evening the decision meant the club would continue struggling to find a usable venue on a regular basis.

She said: “We have spent a lot of time trying to find facilities. We have 70 active members and a very long waiting list. There isn’t sufficient sports hall capacity.

“It’s incredibly disappointing the size of the sports hall has been reduced.”

Ms Bowhay also claimed the club had not been consulted, although that was disputed by the council.

Cllr Brian Laming, who described himself as an “enthusiastic supporter” of a new leisure centre, added: “Anyone with any business sense knows that if you do not grow the business it will fail, so to build a sports hall the same eight-court-size as one the city built in 1974 [River Park] is a grave error.”

Andy Hickman – one of the key council officers in the scheme – defended the decision, saying it had been supported by experts on multiple occasions and that addition capacity was being looked at elsewhere in the district.

However, Cllr Martin Tod – another Lib Dem – hit back, saying: “I think there is a real risk we are spending too much to get too little. We are still not listening to local people’s experiences of capacity.

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“The fact you have personal testimony on the one hand [from someone] who says there is not enough capacity, compared to someone with a spreadsheet in London, I know which one I would choose.”

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Concerns were also raised the cost of the scheme, but this was also defended by council officers, who said the project would bring in profit for the council.

Conservative councillor Patrick Cunningham said: “The originally approved case was the council would support funding of £600,000 per annum. The council will now actually see a surplus [estimated to be £24million according the city council].”

The meeting also heard Winchester University was investing £1.7million in the project in return for use of the hall by students on Wednesday afternoons, but they had not reached an agreement with the council over the use of the sports stadium.

Professor Neil Marriott, deputy vice-chancellor at the university, said: “Students are an important part of the city and if we can make them feel welcome at the new centre, then it will be a win-win situation for everyone.”

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A number of Conservative councillors rallied behind the scheme, including Cllr Eileen Berry, who said: “I think this is going to be the most magnificent facility.

“Nothing is perfect, nothing is risk free. If you believe that, you’re living in cuckoo land.”

The business case will now move to the leisure centre committee on Monday, before being seen by cabinet and eventually decided on by the full council.

Building work on the leisure centre is expected to get under way within the next few months.