WINCHESTER City Council will not rule out selling the freehold to a new doctors surgery in the town centre.

As previously reported, primary healthcare developers will erect a new building for St Clements, currently on Tanner Street, in the Upper Brook Street car park.

But despite pressure from Cllr Fiona Mather at a meeting, the project leaders refuse to rule out a freehold sale.

This will give the developers more freedom than if they were to lease the land from the council.

Cllr Mather said: "St Clements serves over 17,000 patients in the centre of Winchester. It is vital that the new surgery is built. "Due to procurement rules, we cannot guarantee that development is built if we dispose of the freehold. In addition, future controls on this key site, for example, in relation to user, appearance and repair, will be much more effective if any disposal is through a leasehold route.

"This needn’t include a ground rent although this would be added bonus for the council for the future. Given all the issues with a freehold disposal, will the cabinet member give reassurance to the surgery’s patients and rule out a freehold sale?”

This was met with a response from cabinet member for housing and asset management, Cllr Kelsie Learney.

She said that although she personally leans towards the leasehold option, it would be wrong to not look at all of the options, particularly when the impacts of Covid-19 are fully understood.

“I am fully committed to work with the St Clements Surgery to build medical facilities in the heart of Winchester of an exemplary standard," she said.

"Offers are to be sought from developers for both freehold and long leasehold interests. The advantages and disadvantages of those offers will be carefully assessed to achieve the very best result for our residents.”

It is unclear when a final decision will be made.