COUNCIL chiefs have agreed to lease the redundant River Park Leisure Centre (RPLC) site, despite calls for a public consultation over the future of the land.

Winchester City Council unveiled earlier this month that it had been in talks with the University of Southampton, which runs the Winchester School of Art, to help develop plans for an expanded campus, including the RPLC site.

Today (Tuesday) the council Cabinet agreed to lease the site to the university for five years. This will now enable the university to develop their proposals in consultation with local people, bring forward a planning application and, if successful, a longer term (150-year) lease would then be awarded.

However, the plan has sparked criticism and calls for the council to look at other ideas for the site.

Lido campaigner Esme Holding said to cabinet: “The new Winchester Lido group believes that the proposal to dispose of the River Park Leisure Centre site to the University of Southampton are simply wrong, there has been no public consultation and no chance for other potential users of the site to come forward.

“This is undemocratic and takes no notice of the wishes of the people of the city and the wider district.”

Former city councillor and Hyde resident Rose Burns said that many Winchester residents are “alarmed” about the proposals.

Ms Burns argued that if the council leases the land to any private organisation, such as Southampton University, then it would appear to breach the restrictive covenant on the site and the statutory trust under which the site is held by the council for the benefit of Winchester residents – the council denied this was the case.

Sam Feltham, who has started a petition calling for the council to pause the proposal, told Cabinet: “At present I can report the feeling amongst fellow residents is that the council has strong-armed their way into making this proposal.

“Although there may not be a formal requirement to conduct a public consultation that does not mean they don't have a moral duty to do so.”

Cllr Charles Radcliffe, council member for St Michael’s ward, raised concerns if in five years’ time the university is unable to continue with the plans it would “leave the council and by extension residents exposed”.

Cabinet member for housing and asset management, Cllr Kelsie Learney, said the council was not in the financial position to take on a scheme, such as the lido.

Cllr Learney said following the decision: “This is an exciting prospect for Winchester, as it looks to our long-term recovery from the pandemic and will ensure that this much loved area remains vibrant. Our two organisations are in alignment strategically - any development will be undertaken sustainably and as well as the economic benefits that an extended campus would bring, the university are also keen to create a cultural resource for our city - something which we know local people are keen to see.”

Wendy Appleby, Vice-President (Operations) at the University of Southampton, said: “We have had an extremely positive interaction with Winchester City Council and the people of Winchester so far and are excited to develop our thoughts for the use of this site.

"The Winchester School of Art has a long history in the city and is held in high regard by many; I am certain that an increased University of Southampton presence in Winchester will bring many benefits to the community, both economic and cultural. It is already clear to us that public interest in this site and any scheme for its future use is high; we look forward to working collaboratively and ensuring our plans deliver the best that we can bring to Winchester.”