PLANS by a city councillor to allow office use at the home of a city centre GP practice have finally been allowed on appeal.

Winchester City Council’s planning committee rejected the bid by Liberal Democrat Kim Gottlieb last summer that would have seen the St Clements building in Tanner Street change to business uses including offices, research and development or light industrial.

The committee heard fears from planning officers – who recommended the bid be refused – that if it were to go-ahead it “would result in the loss of a local facility”.

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The news follows significant progress in talks between doctors at the surgery and the city council to relocate to a new building on the Upper Brook Street car park.

Speaking at the time of the application, Cllr Gottlieb said: “As things stand, there is no proposal to develop the broader site and, unlike the council, I can’t afford for the building to be sat vacant for years doing nothing.”

Now a planning inspector has agreed with Cllr Gottlieb and allowed the change of use.

Inspector Paul Hocking said: “There is concern that in the absence of a confirmed alternative facility, given the current lack of a commercial agreement and completion of the new facility, there is a risk that the existing surgery could be lost.

“Commercial pressures could also push the practice out of this central area to make way for more profitable uses, given it is difficult to predict future financial implications. However, to guard against this the appellant (Cllr Gottlieb) has submitted a completed Unilateral Undertaking (UU).

“The effect of the UU would enable the planning permission to be implemented but crucially only in respect of one room. The remainder of the building occupied by the surgery would therefore not be at risk of the change of use until it has vacated the building, or any parts thereof.

“The proposal would therefore not threaten or result in the loss of the current surgery and, based upon the available evidence, the continuity of medical provision in the area would not be at risk.”

Cllr Gottlieb responded: “The Planning Inspector’s decision makes sense from every perspective, as it will help ensure that the site is put to productive use as and when the medical practice is relocated to a bespoke new facility.

“The existing building may not end up being refurbished as offices, but this consent provides a useful option in the future discussion about the regeneration of the broader area. I fervently believe that Silver Hill should be developed with predominately civic uses, sensitive to the city’s heritage, and with characterful independent commercial uses, which would enhance the sense of place, the economy and the culture of the whole city.

Hampshire Chronicle:

“The circumstances in which I bought the surgery site are complicated but, at the time, there was good reason to suspect that the Henderson scheme might be resuscitated, and that the St Clements surgery might be evicted. In essence, I have held the site in trust until such time as the council can be trusted with the regeneration of the area and the future of the medical practice. Happily, we are now that point.”

As previously reported, agents acting on Cllr Gottlieb’s behalf had been seeking to sell the building to the city council for more than he bought it, although Cllr Gottlieb maintained he would not be profiting from the deal.

He has since confirmed that no deal has been agreed, nor are any negotiations ongoing.