PLANS to bring an ice rink to Southampton have at last taken a huge step forward.

A £25 million multi-purpose conference and concert complex including an ice rink should be built in the centre of the city, say leisure consultants.

A report commissioned by the city council from leisure experts PMP Consultancy has recommended to councillors that the new venue, with seating for up to 6,000, should be built next to WestQuay shopping centre.

Now city leisure bosses have told the consultants to investigate where the cash for the dream complex would come from.

The land, which is currently vacant, was earmarked for a town arena but the experts believe it is the ideal location for the new complex that could host everything from major political conferences to ethnic wedding parties.

Leisure boss Paul Mawson told members of the corporate committee there was still a long way to go with the proposals but prospects seemed promising.

"The preferred site in the professional and commercial opinion of PMP is the WestQuay phase 111 site between the shopping centre and The Quays swimming and diving complex.

"So if you ask me if there is a demand, I would say yes. If you ask me is there a site, I would say yes.

"And if you ask me whether this will bring benefits to the city, I will say yes.

"If you ask me can we afford the scheme there is a question mark," he said.

Ice rink campaigners have welcomed the latest move.

Secretary of the Southampton Ice Dance and Figure Skating Club Edna Boden, 59, of Winchester, said: "The council will hopefully look seriously at it and go forward and put an ice rink into the multi-use arena.

"It will be an excellent facility for the whole community."

Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Councillor George Melrose moved a recommendation that a multi-purpose arena with a community ice rink and facilities for pop concerts be provided at no running cost to the council.

His move was agreed but only after chairman Councillor Adrian Vinson used his casting vote.

But council leader Councillor June Bridle warned they could not ignore the issues over the continued council ownership of the land.

"Let's look at the total cost to this authority - not being able to use that land for something else is a real cost to us," she said.

Tory Councillor John Hannides said the council should support the scheme but should have no financial involvement at all.

"This should be a private sector solution with no grants required from the local authority.

"We need a solution that does not result in the facility returning to council ownership - I don't see why the local authority should be exposing itself to any financial risk or commitment," he said.

Leisure executive member Councillor Derek Burke warned the city should retain control over the land or the developer could knock the building down in 25 years time to make way for houses or a giant car park