COUNCIL chiefs have given a developer 18 months to draw up dramatic plans for a prime waterfront site in Southampton.

It is the latest twist in a long-running saga at the Royal Pier site which has seen a succession of developments proposed before collapsing.

Scottish developer Kilmartin has been asked to talk to local history societies and trade group Business Southampton before drawing up plans for the site.

Although no details are available yet proposals for the site are likely to include around 1,000 flats.

It could also see a large casino with up to 140 slot machines created after the city won a Government licence to build one of the lucrative gambling nightspots.

Although not currently defined, the Royal Pier site includes not only Mayflower Park but land reclaimed from the sea around the remnants of the original pier. There is also the possibility that other adjacent sites, such as the land currently home to the Red Funnel operation could be included as well.

The entrance to the Royal Pier has been renovated and opens next week as Kuti's Royal Thai Pier restaurant and will not be affected by any development plans.

Councillor Royston Smith, Cabinet member for economic development, said: "Kilmartin has been given exclusivity on the site for 18 months. It means we prevent other developers from coming along with their designs for the site. We do this because it costs them a lot of money to draw up plans.

"This is a normal process. They are now going to go off and see whether the scheme is viable. We said to them we want to open up the waterfront to the public. We want it to be a destination and something the city can be proud of and, most importantly, we wanted to protect the boat show for now and the future.

"All those boxes need to be ticked and apart from that they can make it work how they need to."

He said a casino was an option but the public would need to be consulted first.

"We now have a licence for a large casino and we will decide whether we will award it. But, as we have always said, there will be a meaningful dialogue with the public before we decide. If the public say this is what they want to see then that would be an obvious place to put it because of the regeneration benefits."