CONTENTIOUS major £150million regeneration plans in Winchester which could create 1,000 jobs took a key step forward yesterday (Thursday September 12).

Members of Winchester City Council's planning committee approved the outline planning application submitted by the local authority for the Station Approach development despite concerns over the size of the scheme.

The approval ensured the project overcame one of the last challenges it faced before it could proceed in earnest.

While objections from councillors, residents and City of Winchester Trust called for the scheme to be deferred or refused, the committee supported an officer's recommendation and granted the plans by six votes to three.

The approval included a string of conditions to instruct the more detailed reserved matters applications in the future, however, concerns were raised over whether these were strict enough to address issues discussed.

An open forum on the development, which will create 190,000 square feet of office space and a further 20,000 sq ft of retail, cafe and restaurant space, is scheduled for Monday at the Guildhall.

Former Labour city councillor Patrick Davies, who spoke in objection, said the council had given the Carfax site scheme "special treatment" and had acted in a "serious breach" of its integrity.

"Where the local planning authority is the applicant it is vitally important that no special treatment is given to their schemes by the planning process," said Mr Davies. "I'm afraid that is just what has happened here."

St Pauls ward councillor Martin Tod said it was "striking" how many consultees had raised fears over the height of the buildings and Liberal Democrat councillor Kim Gottlieb said the size and height had concerned "almost everyone" who was consulted.

However, Ian Charie, the council's head of programme, said: "There is strong feeling we can't take height down any further without significantly affecting the quality of the office space."

He added that refusal would send a very negative message to developer and operator markets. Architect Alex Lifshutz said it was hoped the scheme would serve as a catalyst for further development.

Council officers estimate the scheme will provide an £81million boost to the local economy and create 1,000 jobs.

The application had backing from Hampshire Chamber of Commerce and Winchester Business Improvement District (BID).

Sarah Davis, of the BID, said: "This is a fantastic opportunity for the city and we are pleased to express our support."

On the concerns raised by Mr Davis on the council's approach to the application, committee member Cllr David McLean, who voted in favour, said: "I am totally convinced in the integrity of our planning team."

Councillors Brian Laming, Tony Bronk and Jane Rutter were all against the decision to grant outline permission, with the latter saying she feared the planning conditions on the scheme could not provide the assurances needed.

The approval serves as a positive step to the possibility of securing £5milllion in grant funding though the Local Enterprise Partnership agreement, which would go towards enhancing the public spaces around the railway station.