CITY bosses have been challenged to allow a beach to be built on the banks of the River Itchen next summer.

Architect Paul Bulkeley threw down the gauntlet at the latest Daily Echo backed Working Lunch, which focused on the potential of the River Itchen to transform Southampton city centre.

With Gavin Hall from property giant Savills, he staged an inspirational presentation exploring the river’s regeneration possibilities.

An audience of city business leaders heard how encouraging development along its banks, particularly on the stretch from Town Depot up to Northam Bridge, could help pull the focus of the city back east and “rebalance” it from the creep west.

Organised by Business Southampton and sponsored by the Coast radio station, the lunch was the fourth in a series designed to seriously examine ways to address the city’s long-running economic under performance.

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The event heard of the huge regeneration potential of the Itchen, with around a third of the city within ten minutes walk of its banks.

Leisure developments with major attractions like an ice rink, snow dome or music venue, combined with waterside living and improved access would create a major draw for Southampton, complement the Saints stadium and help link the two sides of the city. Paul, of Winchester architect practice The Snug Project, said building a beach on vacant land at Town Depot would show whether people would support riverside attractions.

“Just like Rotterdam or Paris, let’s have a beach on the Town Depot site and see if people will actually use it,” he said. “I’m brave enough to say that if someone will give me the land I’m willing to underwrite it and take all the risk.

“People don’t see the potential of the Itchen river. We need to get people thinking, debating and grappling with how things can really change.”

Gavin revealed Savills had prepared a plan for the development of the west bank of the Itchen three years ago.

City bosses have now contacted the Daily Echo to invite the pair to submit their presentation to the team putting together the city masterplan.