WINCHESTER civic chiefs have agreed to sell off their former depot amid concerns about a lack of public consultation.

The site on Bar End Road will be marketed at some point in the future to help address the financial problems partly caused by the Covid health crisis, Cabinet agreed.

A group of local people are trying to set up a community trust to ensure that any proposals includes assets such as a shop or community centre.

Several people addressed Cabinet on the issue. Charles Radcliffe said: “On Bar End Depot, I understand the council is minded to sell the site, which raises real concerns for many of us. Residents in Bar End and neighbouring Highcliffe have long been promised new community facilities and a local shop – both of which are conspicuously lacking.

“They’ve repeatedly been told the Depot site would be redeveloped only after proper consultation with affected communities. That consultation has not happened – not properly – and by selling the site there’s risk the council will lose control over what gets built there.”

Geoff Wright, of Quarry Road, said: “There has been no consultation on the future use of the depot site. Residents have had no opportunity to propose or discuss what they would like or not like to see on the site.”

Former city councillor Janet Berry, who represented Bar End and Highcliffe, said: “Is the council going to consider local needs and aspirations of the community?”

A group have written to the council proposing a not-for-profit community development trust, something which has been used across the country. They write: “We appreciate that the Council has financial issues to address and that a sale of this site may be necessary. However, we are greatly concerned that once the site is sold the Council will have little effective control over what is developed on it. The planning policy for the site is very open, and no Development Brief or Framework can provide adequate assurances. In the current environment the community would be left, for all practical purposes, completely unprotected.”

The group has asked for a six-month period of exclusivity in which we would set up the trust and submit an offer to the council. The letter was signed by Chris Allen, Emma Back, Liz Cooper, Alan Foster, Kim Gottlieb, Caroline Hill, Steve and Jenny Jarvis, Bill Leadbetter, Judith Martin, Richard Mendelsohn, Mary Sear and Geoff Wright.

The Cabinet heard that nothing is going to happen immediately. Cllr Kelsie Learney, Cabinet member for housing and asset management, said: “We are not looking at a fire sale here. We will be looking at the general market situation and will make the benefit to the local community a key consideration. Without going to market we have no idea what the range of uses might be there. The proposed community development trust is to be welcomed and we look forward to a full proposal coming forward.

“We are not committed to putting the site on the market tomorrow or even next year if the conditions are not right. This is definitely not a fire sale.”

Cabinet agreed £20,000 for marketing and site survey and £10,000 for development appraisal valuations.

Cllr Learney said the council does not have personnel or staff resources to develop it itself. “It would lie derelict for many years to come.”

Opposition councillor Hugh Lumby said: “I’m worried by the rush to sell. It feels like panic reaction when a more measured approach would yield more benefit.”

Future uses of the depot have included housing, commercial, healthcare, shops and a hotel. The site is currently being used by Willmott Dixon as its compound for the building of the nearby sports centre.