CIVIC chiefs have taken a step closer towards building a new leisure centre for Winchester, although concerns about the size of facilities have been raised again.

Councillors debated the full business case for the £38 million project in Bar End – the last hurdle before building work begins on the new facility.

Concerns were also raised about the finances of the scheme – designed to replace the current River Park Leisure Centre – by opposition councillors, although a large portion of the business case relating to those figures was not aired in public due to being commercially sensitive.

Cllr Dominic Hiscock said: “It’s very disappointing. This is a very public project and the public should be better informed.”

As previously reported, Winchester City Council has been criticised by opposition Liberal Democrat councillors over the size of the new facility’s sports hall, which had previously been proposed at 12 courts in size, before a decision was made to only have eight courts.

Sandra Bowhay, of Winchester Netball Club, told councillors on Monday evening the decision meant the club would continue struggling to find a usable venue.

She said: “We have spent a lot of time trying to find facilities. There isn’t sufficient sports hall capacity. It’s incredibly disappointing that the size of the sports hall has been reduced.”

Cllr Brian Laming, who described himself as an “enthusiastic supporter” of a new leisure centre, added: “Anyone with any business sense knows that if you do not grow the business it will fail, so to build a sports hall the same eight-court-size as one the city built in 1974 [River Park] is a grave error.”

Andy Hickman – one of the key council officers in the scheme – defended the decision, saying it had been supported by experts on multiple occasions and that addition capacity was being looked at elsewhere in the district.

The business case will now move to the leisure centre committee, before being put before the full council for a final decision.