BUSINESS leaders have strongly urged Winchester City Council to progress its proposed scheme for Station Approach.

Hampshire Chamber of Commerce is advising the authority not to move away from plans for 150,000 square feet of offices on the area around Winchester railway station, including the Carfax and Cattlemarket sites.

The major development was derailed last autumn by a City of Winchester Trust legal action in the High Court in London, and was halted in May by the council due to economic uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

In a report to the Chamber member's Savills has said that the scheme appeared to already have “an expectation of attracting occupiers from outside the city, possibly from London”, and now there is more likely a need for offices with the impact of Covid and businesses moving away from the Capital to the regions.

A statement from Mark Miller, chair of the Planning and Transport Business Strategy Group at the Chamber, says: “It believes the area would be revitalised by such a development and does not wish to see the current pause become permanent.

“It believes this development will retain existing business in the area, and attract new talent as more expensive locations, particularly in London, adapt to changing work and travel habits and look for new and more affordable regional satellite offices within reach of London.

“It believes the development is a countywide strategic development which would signal improved investor confidence in Hampshire and in particularly in Winchester.

“The Chamber does not wish to see another round of consultations and is willing to work with all bodies including the BID etc to understand the new landscape and help shape Winchester’s response to this and other development sites over the next six months.”

The statement echoes that of Dr Paul Spencer, executive director of Winchester Business Improvement District (BID), who suggested that the footprint of the scheme could supply smaller or more flexible office for new businesses and start-ups.

Speaking at the BID’s recent AGM, he said: “I think the recent news on Station Approach is disappointing but at the same time we’ve got to understand the needs and trends that we see in city centres are changing, and our experience of coronavirus will have an impact on that as well.

"We were talking a lot with the Chamber of Commerce about this, in fact the need for office space in a place like Winchester won’t change but what will change is we might see the floor plates within that needing to be slightly different.

“At the moment we have a need for office space in Winchester for some time and I think despite some of the changes and trends coming out of Covid-19 into next year we feel there will still be demand for offices.”

Earlier this year 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.