THE journey started 25 years ago but efforts to transform a chunk of Winchester city centre are starting again.

Around 70 people gathered at the first Central Winchester Regeneration Open Forum to tell civic chiefs what they want to see in the scheme, once called Silver Hill.

Cllr Kelsie Learney, chairman of the forum, said it aimed "to make people feel they have got a real stake in the area. We will come back to the forum to report and find out what you think before decisions are taken. We are still very much in the early stages."

Katie Kopec, of consultants JLL, said research was being done on what was feasible, in a world where the Internet has undermined High Street shops. The previous scheme proposed scores of new shops.

The forum on Tuesday heard that the council was developing ideas for Coitbury House on Friarsgate. Recent protests over the Climate Crisis were leading to perhaps a greener vision for the building.

Chris Holloway, environmental campaigner, called on any development to be net-zero carbon, and added "why not let it crumble?"

Cllr Kim Gottlieb said the development should be "civic-minded" and suggested holding fire over Coitbury House as "we may want to knock it down and build a new museum."

On archaeology he disagreed with the current policy of 'minimum disruption, minimum intrusion and maximum preservation.' He called for a big project such as with the Brooks Centre in the late 1980s which saw a major archaeological excavation that became a tourist attraction.

Judith Martin, senior member of the City of Winchester Trust, called for the scheme to have 'live-work' homes for art students to keep creative people in the city post-graduation.

"I wish Winchester felt like a university town and it doesn't. If we kept the students there would be a terrific buzz and creativity."

Deryk Newland, boss of the Theatre Royal, agreed, saying there are amazing festivals in Winchester, the Hat Fair, jazz, comedy, gin, Heritage Open Days and that people wanted such experiences that were "visceral and real...(to) create a cultural, creative quarter that celebrates such experiences and looks for young people to develop unique experiences

Former councillor Ian Tait said: "I was interested to hear that we are at the start of the journey. I thought it started 25 years ago, but we seem to be further away."

Cllr Learney answered: "I understand the public's frustration but we need to get the scheme right. (Scrapping the first scheme) was the right thing to do. We would have regretted that project because the world now is different to the world then."

Carol Deans, mother of three schoolchildren, said the council need to focus not just on students but all young people.

The meeting was held at the Nutshell, the arts centre that was once the Antiques Market, which was saved from demolition under the Silver Hill scheme.

Among the ideas left by the public on post-it notes at the forum were 'Place to sit and linger', 'Coitbury House: consider using for affordable housing' and 'We don't need a bus station in city centre.'