A WINCHESTER business chief is pressing the city council over its plans for the Station Approach scheme.

Mark Mills-Goodlet is concerned about the campaign to alter the £150 million redevelopment of the area near the railway station.

A city council scheme for a major development for 150,000 square feet of offices was derailed last autumn by a City of Winchester Trust legal action in the High Court in London.

The Chronicle has reported a proposal by Cllr Kim Gottlieb for the initial phase of the scheme to only have 25,000 square feet of offices. City MP Steve Brine has also weighed in raising concerns about the council stance on the issue.

Mr Mills-Goodlet, chairman, Winchester Business Strategy Group and also director, Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, has taken the unusual step of writing to council leader Lucille Thompson.

His letter states: "We met last year with Laura Taylor, Mark Baulch (Head of Policy and Representation for Hampshire Chamber of Commerce) and others to discuss the Station Approach development under the new Liberal Democrat administration. At the time we were given assurances that the scheme would progress as planned and it did until the successful legal challenge brought against the council by the City of Winchester Trust.

"I was disappointed to read in last week’s Hampshire Chronicle that Winchester City Council is now considering a full review on the project which might result in office space in the new Station Approach being significantly reduced from 150,000 to just 25,000 square feet and this space being replaced with shops and restaurants. I find it strange that the council is now looking to include more shops within this development, because one of the reasons for the Central Winchester Regeneration (Silver Hill) development’s demise was the fact that it included too many retail units, at a time when the high street is in direct competition with on line sales outlets. I believe that the most recent application had passed planning, but failed due to a technicality, if this is the case, why change the profile of the development? It should be a priority for the council and your administration to get the scheme over the line and hand it over to the developers so we can give the city what it needs, a new gateway from the station to Winchester that will bring jobs and prosperity to the city.

"In 2016 the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce undertook a task on behalf of the city council to find the depth of interest for the new Grade A office space that would be available within the new Station Approach development and we received interest from a number of businesses within Hampshire and even a ‘blue chip’ company from London.

"I understand that the economy has changed from 2016, especially recently with the current pandemic. When we return to the new normal, I think that many larger, blue chip companies will look to work out of more regional offices that offer their employees a better standard of health and wellbeing, if this is the case Grade A office space so close to the station in the beautiful city of Winchester would be highly sought after.

"Winchester is lucky to have a number of high calibre businesses situated within the city, but as these businesses grow, they will be looking for suitable office space to move into to continue their growth. Southampton, Basingstoke and Portsmouth all have ambitious plans for regeneration and new facilities for business and I fear that we may lose some of our businesses to our neighbouring towns. This would harm the local economy with less footfall for the local shops and restaurants.

"The council has the opportunity to proceed with a development which, when completed will set a positive tone for business and the general public of Winchester for decades to come. If the council continues to procrastinate or takes a backward step the city will have missed a huge opportunity.

"With the reduction of the proposed Grade A office space I am concerned for the future prosperity of Winchester and the vibrancy of the local job market. We have a first-class university producing exceptionally talented young people, but we cannot offer them employment within the city so they will migrate to nearby Basingstoke, Southampton or indeed London.

"It is vitally important that you listen to the views of business and those who want to see the future prosperity of this great city. Winchester must have a vibrant business economy as it:

A. Supports the achievement of economic prosperity goals within the region.

B. Provides a significant investment in the economy in terms of business rates, taxes and the BID levy.

C. Generates local employment opportunities for a range of different ages, abilities and skills.

D. Supports the local retail and leisure trade.

E. Will become increasingly important as a source of funds for the Council - with the growth in business rates being allocated to the Council locally from 2020.

"Before any final decisions are made by the council to reduce the size of the Grade A office space, I would implore you to ask the Chamber to again undertake the task of gauging the amount of interest in the Station Approach development.

"The Chamber remains ready to provide you with any appropriate input or support in ensuring that Winchester has a positive future and is a centre of thriving economic prosperity."