MULTI-MILLION-POUND plans to redevelop the redundant River Park Leisure Centre (RPLC) site have been unveiled.

The council-owned facility in Gordon Road closed last year ahead of the opening of the new Winchester Sport and Leisure Park at Bar End.

Since then, concerns have been raised about the future of the River Park site, with fears that it could become “an eyesore”, but now a £100 million scheme has been unveiled to transform the land.

The authority has been working with the University of Southampton, which runs the Winchester School of Art, to help develop plans for a revived campus, including the RPLC site.

The scheme is expected to include larger performance and exhibition spaces, which would be open to the public.

In an exclusive briefing with the Chronicle, Cllr Kelsie Learney, portfolio holder for housing and asset management, said: “We were approached by the University of Southampton who, as you may be aware, run the Winchester School of Art, with an exciting proposition to utilise both the police station site, which they own, their existing buildings and the River Park Leisure Centre into a new revived campus which will expand their offer.

“Part of the reason it is attractive to us, is because it will include an expanded performance space and exhibition space which is something that people have been asking for a long period of time.

“It sits with the vision for Winchester which we have done for Central Winchester as well as the park plan for North Walls.”

Cllr Learney said that that scheme will incorporate plans for a “youth and culture corridor” from the park into the city centre, which will include larger performances spaces and a vision to improve the city’s the night-time economy.

Yesterday evening (Monday) the council held a public briefing unveiling the plans.

Professor Larry Lynch, head of Winchester School of Art, said that the university is soon to publish its new strategic plan. He continued: “It certainly seems clear that the university through its new strategy wishes to grow not just in scale, but in scope and the impact of research and education work. Our proposal that we have made to Winchester City Council and now to the community is that the city could be a bigger part of that story, could help us create the spaces and places to grow.”

Professor Lynch told the event that the scheme proposes “a reimagined Southampton presence in the city” by not only developing the art school but also establishing a new multi-disciplinary facility on the River Park site.

During a Cabinet meeting on November 23 councillors will consider awarding a five-year lease on the River Park site, this would enable the university to develop their proposals and bring forward a planning application and, if successful, a long term (150-year) lease would then be awarded.

Much of the funding for the project would come from the university itself, through borrowed funding, with hopes that money could be secured from other parties. Cllr Learney expressed that the scheme would be “financially beneficial” for the council.

There had been calls for the site to be used as lido, with more than 2,600 signing a petition for an outdoor swimming area.

But Cllr Learney said that the site sits on a flood plain and the lido scheme was likely to be “very expensive”. She quoted that it could cost at least £10million to develop.

Lucy Taylor, who started the lido petition said: “We think it’s disappointing that a decision about a much loved and used piece of our community fabric has been made without consulting local people. 

“There is great public support for having a lido as part of the River Park/ North Walls redevelopment with the petition having garnered close to 3000 signatures (online and on paper) and the website receiving more than 6000 views. What we love about the lido idea is the wise ranging appeal it has - it would be a resource for everyone. 

“Giving this central public space to the university will mean it’s available to a much narrower segment of society which is a great shame. 

“On the point of flooding we are interested in exploring whether there are ways of using a swimming facility as a means of alleviating flood risk. 

“We would support a proper consultation which considers multiple proposals, including the lido, for the River Park site.”

While residential use is not permitted without discharge of the covenant by the Lands Tribunal, the council was approached from developers to build houses on the site.

Cllr Learney added: “We are absolutely clear that it is not a housing site, we have had propositions to put housing on it. Local people have been very clear that they want to see something that is much more public utility on the site. We and the university are very clear on that.”

The existing building will need to be demolished as it is structurally unsound before any work on the site can take place.