WINCHESTER City Council is set to borrow millions of pounds to fund major projects over the next three years.

The council approved a £76m capital programme last Thursday (Feb 21) which includes buying property, building a new doctor's surgery and rolling out high-speed broadband.

Cllr Stephen Godfrey, portfolio holder for finance, said the council had to tackle the challenges of the recession head-on.

He said: “This administration believes the best way for the council to respond to these challenges is to do everything in its power to support, maintain and boost the local economy.

“If we can keep Winchester prosperous and increase the economic activity in the district, many of the problems and challenges we face will be manageable.”

But he added the full council would have to approve any loans of over £1m for specific projects and that each proposal would go through a “thorough financial appraisal.”

But Lib Dem leader Kelsey Learney warned the Conservative cabinet against making bad investments in businesses and property.

She said: “The Liberal Democrats are supportive of investing in local jobs and work spaces but this programme is proposing investing £23m in commercial property.

“Commercial properties carry significant risks and we have to make sure we can cover the cost when things go wrong and not end up cutting services to make up for an interest bill.”

But council leader Keith Wood said the council would spend sensibly on projects that would support business.

He said: “What we are suggesting are responsible things to develop the economy here to make Winchester a much more vibrant place. We want to create more work opportunities within the district and take advantage of our facilities and the quality of life we have here so residents get the benefit of the investment we make.”

Cllr Wood added the council would be taking advantage of attractive borrowing rates due to the recession.

The capital programme includes £6m to launch an enterprise centre and fund business start-ups, £7m for a new doctor's surgery and new car parks, £139,000 on broadband and £150,000 for a hydro-electric plant at Abbey Mill.

Around £4.2m has been reserved for repairs at River Park Leisure Centre although that is only a minimum figure as the council has not yet decided whether to replace the centre.