“IT’S about time everyone got behind the project.”

Those were the words of one of Winchester’s most senior councillors as the planned £38million leisure centre’s business case was debated once again.

Speaking at the leisure centre committee on Monday afternoon, portfolio holder for business partnership Cllr Rob Humby (pictured) called on councillors to back the facility planned for Bar End as it nears the final sign off it needs before construction.

In a thinly veiled dig at the Lib Dems, Cllr Humby said: “I get frustrated when some members... just continually want to put this project down. Unfortunately, we can’t have everything for everybody.

“It would be nice, actually, if everyone got behind this project; it’s about time everyone got behind the project. It will be fantastic for Winchester.”

However, Cllr Humby’s rallying cry was quickly replaced by familiar concerns over the plan to only include an eight-court hall, rather than the 12-court facility originally proposed.

As previously reported, Conservative-led Winchester City Council has long been criticised by opposition Liberal Democrat councillors over the size of the sports hall, which despite being larger, would still have the same number of courts as River Park – the leisure centre it is replacing.

Cllr Brian Laming, who described himself as an “enthusiastic supporter” of a new leisure centre at last week’s meeting, added: “The actual increase in size doesn’t cost you any more... All you get is extra income.

“I think you really need to start thinking about that.”

However, that was disputed by council officers, who said it would mean more being spent in terms of utilities, management and staffing. Cllr Guy Ashton, finance portfolio holder, added: “A bigger sports hall would mean the elimination of a football pitch from the Garrison Ground, reducing the park’s overall revenue.”

The meeting also heard from Winchester Netball Club’s Sandra Bowhay, who repeated many the concerns she aired at last week’s overview and scrutiny committee, including the difficulty the club faces in finding adequate space, while Winchester Sport Art and Leisure Trust (SALT) chief executive Emma Back said the council would see a greater benefit if it engaged more community sports clubs.

Again, the council disputed that it had not consulted with Winchester Netball Club, with key council officer Andy Hickman, head of programme, saying the council had records of meetings taking place.

Opposition councillors also repeated concerns about the impact of the leisure on the council’s financial reserves. Cllr Ashton again hit back, saying: “Thanks to strong financial management, Winchester City Council has reserves dedicated to major investments and infrastructure, designed to meet the impact of the time between building a facility of this size and the arrival of the income to pay for it.”

The business case still needs to be put before the full council for a final decision.

Building work is then expected to get under way within the next few months, with work expected to be completed in 2021.

As previously reported, the council has appointed Willmott Dixon to build the leisure centre, while Everyone Active has been revealed as the preferred operator.