THE £150 million redevelopment of Station Approach has been mothballed.

The city council said the economic uncertainty over the pandemic meant that proposals for the site, also known as Carfax, will be halted.

In a report due before the Cabinet this evening, the council said: “The future demand for office accommodation and new ways of working mean that it is appropriate to pause the development of these employment mixed use sites (Carfax and the Cattle Market) whilst the impact of the crisis is better understood. The economy property market, investor confidence and occupier demand may all be significantly affected.”

Dr Paul Spencer, executive director of Winchester Business Improvement District, said: “This will be disappointing for those in the business community who support the Carfax scheme and are excited about the benefits it could bring to the city centre.

“As we move towards a ‘new normal’ the role of regional centres is likely to become stronger. We could see many more large businesses seeking smaller regional offices which can provide high-quality workspace in sustainable buildings and locations, in desirable towns and cities offering their workforce a good quality of life and a better standard of health and wellbeing. Grade A offices at Station Approach are still likely to be highly sought after.”

Mr Spencer and Mark Mills-Goodlet, a director of Hampshire Chamber of Commerce, had been pressing the council over the scheme and last week held a meeting with civic chiefs to get clarity on the situation.

The development has been beset with difficulty including the rejection of a planning application for offices and then a legal challenge by the City of Winchester Trust last autumn.

Earlier this month the Chronicle reported a new idea from local conservationist Judith Martin to scrap the office plans and instead build 20-30 council houses on part of the site and develop the former registry office, as a boutique hotel.

Cllr Kim Gottlieb has proposed an office scheme of initially 25,000 square feet to test the water for future development.

Conservative group leader Caroline Horrill said: “It is extremely disappointing that despite official reports, Local Enterprise Partnership commitment and overwhelming business support for Station Approach the current administration has chosen to delay this key economic growth opportunity for our district.

“It feels as if they have run scared post-judicial review, failed to consider the reputational damage to the city and the requirement, certainly post the virus, to ensure that jobs are available locally for our residents.

“In the context of the current climate change agenda you could not think of a more sustainable location for new jobs in the district. It would bring business to our High Street, give local residents the opportunity to work closer to home and help to keep our young talent in the district. All councils will need to rethink their budgets (post-Covid) but we are in a positive position to ensure that we can move forward. Station Approach should not be dismissed because of finance, it could provide a positive income generation opportunity.”

Council leader Lucille Thompson responded: “Carrying on with a plan that isn’t going to work when the world has completely changed isn’t leadership, it’s flat-out idiocy. Anyone who thinks they know what offices Winchester is likely to need right now is clearly not watching the news - and not taking any notice of the massive changes to the way businesses work.

“The sensible thing to do is to wait until it’s clear what the new needs of business will be - and make sure we have a plan that works for the future, and doesn’t just hark after a past that’s gone. The Conservatives need to get real. They wouldn’t invest in this site right now with their own money - why are they asking to do it with public money?”