CIVIC chiefs must ensure that the River Park Leisure Centre does not become an eyesore once it closes.

The new sports and leisure centre at Bar End is due to be opened next spring, making redundant the 1980s RPLC.

There are questions whether the centre will ever reopen, before its final closure, because of social distancing restrictions.

But councillors were looking further ahead. Cllr Dominic Hiscock told the business and housing policy committee: “The worst thing is that it sits there, decays and gradually falls down. We have to have a proper public consultation that people accept, a decision and then we get on with it. If we don’t have a decision soon it will blight the whole of the park. We don’t want a Silver Hill situation with this,” referring to the lack of progress over 20 years with the redevelopment of the city centre site.

Conservative group leader Caroline Horrill said she too was concerned it could become an eyesore in future.

Cllr Jane Rutter questioned if the River Park Leisure Centre would ever reopen: “I understand the costs of reopening it would be prohibitive”.

Chas Bradfield, strategic director, said it was still uncertain as the operator was awaiting Government guidance, describing the situation as “work in progress”.

The future use of the site is unclear with Covid and the ‘Future of Winchester’ initiative which is asking people how they would like the see the city develop.

Cllr Eleanor Bell said many people would like to see some sort of non-competitive indoor sports provision retained, as the new centre would be targeted at competitive sports.

The council is considering four options for the building: keep it open; decommission it but keep it secure; decommission, soft strip and secure; demolish and clear.

The committee went for option three to decommission the RPLC by ‘soft stripping’ and securing and it was due to be discussed yesterday at Cabinet as the Chronicle went to press.

The committee heard clarification of the covenant on the land early last century. It must be for recreational or as open space, ruling out housing, educational or industry, Veryan Lyons, head of programme, told the committee.