CITY council chiefs have been accused of repeating history as the next step to bring Silver Hill to fruition was taken.

On Wednesday Winchester City Council members approved the outline business case for the city centre major redevelopment, also known as Central Winchester Regeneration (CWR).

After nearly three hours of debate and questions, 21 councillors voted in favour, while 13 voted against and six abstained.

The decision will see the council go through a procurement process to find a single development partner, something which has sparked criticism from opposition councillors, some Lib Dems, and some residents.

Cllr Kelsie Learney, cabinet member for housing and asset management, said the CWR Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) was adopted in 2018 to create of mixed-use development.

She said: “We are now at the point that we need to stop talking about it and take that big step forward.

“It is inevitable that some members have reservations, this is a complex matter, it’s already had several false starts and vocal naysayers although fewer now than there have been in the past. There will be doubts, although extensive work has been done to mitigate the risk and deal with concerns.”

READ MORE: Winchester City Council approves next step for Silver Hill

The council has been eyeing the area for redevelopment since the late 1980s and two major schemes have collapsed; the first by Thornfield because of the economic downturn in the late noughties and the second by Henderson after a legal challenge by Cllr Kim Gottlieb in 2015-16.

Conservative councillor Stephen Godfrey raised concern the single developer approach, which was objected to 20 years ago.

“Today the city council, with the same Councillor Learney with all her experience, seeks to appoint a single development partner, very similar approach, it failed last time so I'm sure it will work differently this time," he said sarcastically.

“Handing over control of a development to a partner even one that's considered to share our objectives, our values, our willingness to forgo a normal profit on the scheme, will hand over to a partner that will call the shots on the development and will demand a minimum financial return for their efforts and investment.”

Tory leader on the city council, Caroline Horrill said: “I and the Conservative group wholeheartedly support the regeneration of Central Winchester. We are indeed the owners of the SPD, the initiators of that. I also know how much residents want to see progress on the site. Sadly, today before us is a cabinet minute that hasn't learnt from our past experiences. It is missing some fundamental issues that we need to address, and I fear is taking us along a path that will not deliver the SPD.”

While Independent councillor Victoria Weston told the council: “I feel that history is repeating itself. We have been down that road and it took us to the end of a cliff, we tried to hang on and make it work but we didn't, we couldn't with one developer.”

Cllr Charles Radcliffe urged the council to commission its own masterplan, working closely with local architects which will “result would be more varied, more organic and built to our specifications”.

Cllr Horrill proposed an amendment which referred the business case back to cabinet and urged the council to follow the SPD, including a phase delivery of the scheme with separate developers. This was voted down.

SEE ALSO: What Winchester's Silver Hill may have looked like if these old plans had been approved

Other councillors including Lib Dem Paula Ferguson backed the business case. She said: “I think it's right that the scheme should not principally be evaluated on financial return to the council. This scheme that has been put forward is clearly about social and economic benefits that it will bring to the city and the wider district.”

City council leader Lucille Thompson accused the Conservatives of talking the city down. She continued: “Let's not forget this is one of the best opportunities for decades for a development partner to work with the city council to transform the central area of Winchester. In the wake of the uncertainty of the pandemic we now stand poised to create a new vibrancy in our city through a major regeneration project which puts sustainability at its heart.

“Many local people and businesses have urged us to just to get on with it. Building in Winchester is never easy but this is such an exciting opportunity to move ahead, do we really want to delay this project once again and let our city decline for another indefinite period or do we want to be bold and take that next step.”

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Kimberley Barber