A EXPLOSION of support has greeted a campaign to save the city's skate park.

Its users fear the impending disposal of the site by the city council to Southampton University will lead to its closure.

A petition on 38degrees website has attracted more than 1,500 names since the weekend.

Organiser Stephen Kan called on the council to remove the park from the land disposal. "Why would the university want the land with a skate park that they can't do anything with?"

READ MORE HERE: The latest on the future of River Park Leisure Centre

Mr Kan, of Northanger Drive, Abbotts Barton, has a 12-year-old daughter who occasionally used the park. "No-one has any idea what is happening. The council has not engaged with users. People say the skate park is the best in the south.

"Winchester does not have very good provision for young people: no ice rink, bowling, trampoline park, a cinema that is not designed for teenagers."

On Tuesday the council Cabinet rescinded plans to transfer the River Park Leisure Centre site to Southampton University.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.

Hampshire Chronicle: John Fury at the skate park

The Cabinet meeting today heard that on legal advice the legal requirements do not cover the River Park Leisure Centre. The land which the city's redundant leisure centre sits on is "not deemed to be open public space".

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.

“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?

SEE ALSO: City council and Southampton university plans for River Park site

"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."

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."

Skateboarders have defended the skate park as their second home. John Fury, 17, from Salisbury, said: “It’s a community. Everyone here are mates. We’re from Salisbury and we still come here to skate because it’s a nice park and it’s got good people.”

Jacob Pike, 17, who studies digital media and photography, said: “I’ve met most of my mates from skating. It keeps us out of trouble and if we’re ever in town skating, we always get kicked out of spots, so it’s the only place we can go.”

Mick Lushnikov, 18, studying graphic design, said: “This is our second home. If I didn’t skate, I’d be so bored, I don’t know what I’d do.”

The three local Lib Dem councillors for St Bartholomew's ward in a social media message said: "However, the inclusion of the skate park and the indoor bowls club does NOT mean that these facilities will be lost. Under the lease, the University will be required to maintain both facilities.

"The University has said publicly that they are very keen to improve and enhance the skate park and they will be seeking to involve users in this process. Under the lease the skatepark will remain a community asset, accessible by all.

"The lease also explicitly requires the University to provide alternative facilities for the indoor bowls club if the current building use is changed."

Additional reporting: Harvey Lindsay


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