WINCHESTER City Council has acknowledged the unlawfulness of its decision to hand over the city’s redundant leisure centre site without giving residents the chance to have their say on the plans.

Campaign group ‘Friends of River Park’ told the council last month that it was seeking a judicial review over plans to lease the River Park Leisure Centre (RPLC) site to the University of Southampton to expand its School of Art campus.

Winchester residents aired frustration about the level of public consultation before the plan to lease the site to the university was announced in November last year.

SEE MORE: Multi-million-pound plans unveiled to transform former leisure centre site

But now the city council has acknowledged that the decision to hand over the publicly owned land was unlawful and conceded that it should have given the public notice in order for objections to be considered.

In a letter seen by the Chronicle, the council has said the decision to lease the RPLC land will not be implemented and will be withdrawn at a meeting of the cabinet on January 25.

The chairman of Friends of River Park, Sir Tony Walker, said: “If we are to have a say in the uses to which this exciting site is to be put, it is important for the community to register their objections to the proposed loss of their land to a private, commercial entity. As soon as the council advertises its renewed proposals to dispose of the land, if they actually do, the Friends of River Park will be registering theirs.”

SEE ALSO: Judicial review over plans for River Park Leisure Centre site

In a statement, the campaign group added: “However, despite having acted against the law and the public interest, they still apparently intend to pursue the same decision – this time, having given residents the opportunity to object to the proposal.”

It is not the first time that the council has faced a judicial review, these have included Cllr Kim Gottlieb’s challenge over Silver Hill and more recently the action by Domum Road residents over the new multi-storey car park at Bar End.

A city council spokesperson said: “The council has received a pre-application letter but no application for judicial review has been made at this time. The purpose of this type of letter is to identify matters in dispute and whether formal action can be avoided. The council will always seek to constructively engage with this process and avoid court proceedings and this was the outcome on this occasion.

“The number of legal cases raised with the council over the past three years shows that we have successfully defended more than double the cases we have conceded.

“We can confirm that the intended disposal has been advertised in accordance with section 123(2A) of the Local Government Act 1972. The notice was published in the Hampshire Chronicle and will be advertised again next week.”

The council was asked how many legal cases it has defended and for clarification on the scope of the public notice for the disposal of the RPLC site but it did not respond before the Chronicle went to print.

The group said: “There has been a huge waste of taxpayers’ money on consultants, technical reports, officers’ time and resources and lawyers in regard to projects failed because of unlawful decisions over council-controlled land. Unwarranted delay to those projects is another consequence of the council’s breaches of the law. You may be told by some to lay blame at the door of those with the courage to challenge those decisions. However, quite the opposite: they should be congratulated for protecting the interests of Winchester residents, especially in this latest attempt to preserve public land for public recreational use.”

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Kimberley Barber