COUNCILLORS have decided to press ahead with plans for a new multi-million pound leisure centre in Winchester.

As reported in the Daily Echo there are plans in place to replace the crumbling River Park Leisure Centre in Winchester.

Winchester City councillors have decided the centre should have 50m pool included, which would mean it will be built in Bar End.

The new centre would also have a 12-court sport hall, hydrotherapy pool, four squash courts, a fitness gym with four studios, soft play and cafe facilities.

The news will please sports campaigners in the area including Winchester City Penguins Swimming Club who have been calling for the city to have a near Olympic-sized pool.

Cllr Eileen Berry said it is an exciting opportunity but called for the centre to be profit making and one that will attract athletes and families from across Hampshire.

Cllr Berry said: “It has to cover everything, the end of this is the financial side and nothing is very good if you only look to break even and that has been the problem in the past, you have to have profit to keep the thing going.”

However, Cllr Linda Gemmell said she was concerned affordability for swimmers, after she and other councillors visited a similar centre in St Albans charging what she described as extortionate fees for swimming.

Cllr Gemmell said: “£6.20 a swim it is not affordable for the people I represent, who are you building this for?

“If it is the elite I am not happy.”

Cllr Ian Tait said the project won’t please everyone, but should go ahead.

Cllr Tait said:”We will not be able to make this omelette without cracking some eggs, this is a challenging project financially and meeting the needs of users and residents affected by this.”

While Cllr Martin Tod told the meeting he believes the 50m pool and the water space are fundamental for providing for an increased population in the area, and that people are becoming healthier and living longer.

But he said the financial modelling needs more work.

While councillor Kelsie Learney said that the 50m pool option is not a requirement for Winchester University funding, and that it was unnecessary.

Should the facility have a 50m pool the overall cost of the project will be around £34m.

However, the question of its exact location has been the subject of debate by campaigners, who have called for it to be built on the Garrison Ground which is owned by Tesco, rather than the King George V Playing Fields, which is where it is earmarked currently.

Campaigners say that if it is built there it will lead to a loss of children’s facilities and open space.

The meeting heard Tesco have made the council a new lower offer on the land at the Garrison Ground.

Winchester City Council leader Stephen Godfrey said they are in negotiations with the supermarket giants.

The project will be funded by the council but also partners involved with the University of Winchester pledging £6m and there will also be a contribution from the Pinder Trust, and a possible contribution from Hampshire County Council.

The council voted nearly unanimously to spend around £770,000 for design, project management and other professional services including creating a master plan and consultations required to move the plans forward.