COUNCILLORS have welcomed plans to revamp Winchester's biggest park, but not everyone is happy.

As reported, the city council has watered down proposals for North Walls Recreation Ground and dropped ideas such as a sculpture/tower and mini golf but has suggested a 'splash park' for children, a cafe, toilets and paddling for toddlers. The name will be changed to River Park.

But stakeholders have raised concerns at last night's Winchester Town Forum; Hampshire Wildlife Trust fears the plans could impact on wildlife in the Winnall Moors reserve and Winchester Sport Art and Leisure Trust fears a lost opportunity for informal play.

Rachel Remnant, of the wildlife trust, was worried about the impact of wild swimming which had grown during the lockdown. She said plans that would increase use of the park would impact on wildlife on Winnall Moors. The trust has had problems this summer with children swimming in the reserve, damaging the banks and disturbing wildlife. No water voles had been in Winnall Moors for two years, she told the forum.

READ MORE HERE: Final plan for North Walls Recreation Ground revealed

Emma Back, of SALT, said the plan provided for no MUGA (multiple use games area), a free outdoor area for football and basketball, the two most popular sports in the UK. She said the MUGA that was demolished for the skate park had never been replaced, as was promised. Other parts of the city had also lost their MUGAs including Weeke and Stanmore. Ms Back said it would be a "travesty if this was overlooked again".

Susan Lord, council outdoor recreation officer, said MUGAs had not been popular in a public consultation, compared to cafe and toilet, and it had been difficult to balance everyone's desires.

But Cllr Martin Tod said the public consultation had missed the young and working class, saying responses to the council's public consultation tended to be skewed to the middle-aged and middle class, adding "that isn't everybody in the city"

Cllr Mike Craske suggested moving the cricket pitches closer to Winnall Moors and the noisier activities closer to the houses in Hyde. Cabinet member Kelsie Learney said a previous idea to reduce the size of one of the two pitches "had nearly caused a riot".

Discussion of the park plans sparked wider discussion about access to the river. 'Wild swimming' has become increasingly popular at North Walls and other places such as Compton Lock, St Cross and Itchen Abbas.

Cllr Tod said Winchester College had a silted-up water access, called Gunner's Hole, and suggested discussions with them about access to their riverbanks.

Cllr Charles Radcliffe said the college's charitable status meant it has to engage with the wider public, adding "that is something we could explore in the future."

The town forum is setting up a new working group on wild swimming with chairman Cllr Kathleen Becker and councillors Tod and John Tippett-Cooper as members.

Cllr Learney said she thought the park plans struck a balance between nature and encouraging people to be active. "We are giving people new options, a splash park, better and appropriate river access and giving other parts of the park a spruce up and make people able to feel really proud of the park."

Cllr Tippett-Cooper said the public consultation had worked with the dropping of unpopular ideas such as the "tyranny of the tower" and the yellow banana bridge. "There is something for everyone in this park plan."