WINCHESTER civic chiefs today rescinded their plans to transfer the River Park Leisure Centre to Southampton University.

It followed a legal challenge from the Friends of River Park about the lack of consultation before the decision to grant a 150-year lease was made on November 23.

The council has admitted it got it wrong and has now advertised the proposed disposal of ownership of the skate park and indoor bowls clubs in public notices in the Hampshire Chronicle.

The Cabinet meeting today heard that on legal advice the legal requirements do not cover the River Park Leisure Centre.

READ MORE HERE: City council explains stance on disposal of leisure centre

The ruling Liberal Democrat group came under fire from the opposition Tories. Conservative group leader Caroline Horrill said: "From 1902 the recreation ground, including the area of the redundant Leisure Centre, the indoor bowling club and skate park has belonged to the residents of Winchester. Before deciding to dispose of the Site, the council was obliged to publicise its intention to dispose of any parts of the Site which are open space and to consider any objections, as set out in the Local Government Act 1972.

"This was not actioned and so following the threat of legal action from residents the Cabinet has decided to rescind the decision made in November, advertise the disposal, and give us the opportunity to object to the proposed leasehold disposal by Friday 4th February 2022. Well done to the residents who have stopped the project by raising this issue.

“Whilst it seems there is support for the River Park vision, which the University of Southampton presented, it is not clear whether this proposal was the best or only option for our residents and our District. We do not know if there were other bids or if others have been rejected?

Hampshire Chronicle: River Park Leisure Centre, with, inset, Caroline Horrill

"The current Liberal administration has singly failed to consult regarding the future of the site and so residents are rightly extremely concerned about what will happen to this community facility. This is not just a legal matter; it is about hearing the voices of the electorate. An open and transparent approach is needed. Residents and councillors should have the opportunity to have their voices heard before any future River Park decision is made.”

Cllr Kelsie Learney, cabinet member for housing and asset management, said: "I'm grateful to the author of the letter (Friends of River Park) for drawing this to our attention. I'm disappointed this step was not included in the original paper for decision."

SEE ALSO: Civic chiefs admit disposal plan was unlawful

She said the council had taken legal advice from a QC and the public notice did not need to include the RPLC.

The council would consider any objections to the transfer after the deadline of February 4.

Cllr Learney addressed Tory criticism and said: "We are following what was agreed by the previous administration (Conservative) to be a good course of action."

A save the skate park has been launched at the weekend and attracted more than 1,500 names. Campaigners are concerned that in the long-term the university will not want a skate park inside its expanded campus.

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Kimberley Barber