WINCHESTER civic chiefs say they like the idea of a new sports centre for the district after a petition was presented by campaigners.

Emma Back, of Fit 4 the Future, presented the petition with 3,334 signatures to the Council.

The group comprising some 17 sports clubs is pressing for the replacement of the River Park Leisure Centre with a state of the art sport and leisure centre including a 50-metre pool.

Ms Back told councillors: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring fantastic sports facilities to the city and truly inspire a generation.”

Cllr Patricia Stallard, portfolio holder for communities, culture and sport, said the council faced a decision over the future of the RPLC.

Nearly 40 years old it needs major investment just to maintain it perhaps only for another 10-15 years.

Cllr Stallard said the council was not being idle but was considering employing consultants to produce a report.

Cllr Simon Cook, who as chief leisure officer at Winchester used to oversee RPLC, said a “reality check” was needed. The council could only develop new facilities in partnership with the private sector.

“But if you don’t have a dream, as Obama said, you will never achieve what is wanted.”

Cllr Stephen Godfrey, portfolio holder for finance and administration, said it was an exciting project and added “I’m keen to take advantage of the momentum that has built up around the idea. Finance does cast a shadow.”

He added that interest rates are low and a £10million loan at 3.8 per cent for 40 years borrowing would cost £500,000 a year to service.

“If you can put a business case together we will back you to the hilt.”

Council leader Keith Wood said: “This is the biggest decision the council is likely to take in the next few years, and bigger than anything in the last 20 years. We are anxious to take it forward and make the right decision.”