Senior banker Nicholas Craig-Harvey, from Sparsholt, tells the Chronicle what he feels the city needs

OUR way of life has changed dramatically, and Winchester must change with it. It will have to adapt to the new “normal” as we revise our views on how we want to work, shop, travel and play. In the short term the lockdown will be very painful for the city’s economy but at times of pivotal change, we need to redouble our efforts to keep a long perspective.

It is therefore even more important for us to have a view on the effects of these changes over the longer term. This could be achieved by the city council working more closely with stakeholders and by creating with them a vision of what Winchester could become in the next 20 years backed by a viable framework for its development.

We propose that the council would appoint an independent commission of local stakeholders, with relevant experience, to work within a strict timetable on the publication of a vision statement. Various formats have been proposed and this council wants to leave it to councillors on the Town Forum. Other more successful cities have deliberately let it be led by stakeholders and not by politicians since they can take a longer-term view that is not governed by elections and they have wider expertise that can be dedicated to the achievement of its aims. There is also the risk in Winchester that the council’s poor relationship with some stakeholders could reduce its effectiveness.

A central part of this vision will be the development of major sites in and around the city. However, the fall-out from Covid-19 is going to have a devastating effect on the council’s finances, which were already under severe strain. It’s much too early to know how the government will address the expected drop in receipts from important sources of local authority income but it is clear that it will have to sell assets rather than develop them.

Any disposal requires a viable plan for the site with realistic assumptions and clear financial projections. The absence of these has made the consultation process so difficult and has led to unrealistic expectations of aspirations, which are undeliverable. This has resulted in the cancellations and delays on major sites that have ruined the council’s credibility.

Looking forward, the crisis means that we are all having to think the unthinkable. Climate change was already having a profound impact and there will be even greater pressure for change in how we live and consume. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the silver lining from the endless debate and delay is that Winchester hasn’t been saddled with hundreds of thousands of square feet of inappropriate development.

Now by working together we have a tremendous opportunity to create a thriving economy with new investment attracted by an urban plan with a vision for Winchester that really will be fit for purpose in the 21st century.