SOUTHAMPTON'S arena and ice rink dreams are still on course after the cornerstone of the entire scheme was given the go-ahead.

A huge six-storey landmark building that will be the headquarters of cruise giant Carnival was yesterday given permission by reluctant city planning chiefs.

They said the six-storey building, to be built in West Quay Road next to the old Pirelli site, lacks the "wow" factor.

That project is set to see a world class conference centre and ice rink being built on land used by the Grand Harbour Hotel as a car park, plus shops, offices and apartments north of the Carnival office block.

But at yesterday's city council planning meeting, councillors expressed fears about the Carnival building.

They claimed it lacked a "wow" factor and did not form part of an overall scheme which would include the arena proposal.

Councillor Sue Blatchford said: "This does not have any distinguishing wow factor. I welcome Carnival in Southampton but the design of this building is lacklustre."

Committee chairman Councillor June Bridle added: "I am very disappointed it had to come before us on its own and not as part of the master plan."

Councillor Alec Samuel said: "It's the end of the arena and I suppose we have got to accept that.

"This is yet more piecemeal development and it's clearly a long way from the master plan."

However, the Conservative leader's doubts were dismissed after the meeting by Councillor Steve Sollitt, Cabinet member for leisure and culture. He told the Daily Echo it marks the next exciting leap towards a £100m project to revive part of the city.

Councillor Sollitt said: "The ice rink and arena is a real possibility and today's decision brings us one step forward from where we were."

He added: "It's too early to rule anything out. The sale of the land will raise capital receipt that, assuming the council is not opposed, could be used towards kick-starting development in the derelict West Quay Three.

"Nothing is certain, but there is potential to use it for an ice rink and arena. I would love to see that happen. It is negative and unfair to say this is the end of those plans."

Work is set to start on the 150,000 sq ft building next spring and it should be complete by late 2008.

Peter Eaton, from architects Aukett Fitzroy Robinson, said: "This is a great opportunity for a landmark development because of the site's prominence. The design is not intended to be flamboyant. We have tried to give it a quiet but a strong feeling."

Andy McIntyre, planning consultant for GVA Grimley, agents for applicant Development Securities Plc, said: "In my view, this would be a significant step forward for further regeneration of West Quay."

The building will house 900 office workers and create 300 new jobs.