COUNCILLORS are preparing a U-turn on plans for a new leisure centre in Hampshire.

A public consultation at the end of last year outlined four alternatives to replace Winchester’s River Park Leisure centre, with the council’s preferred option being an entirely new facility.

That angered many residents because it involved a loss of green space.

Now it is understood city councillors will consider building on the existing footprint – an idea once dismissed as too expensive and not presented for public consultation.

But council leader Keith Wood dismissed suggestions of a U-turn.

He said: “It’s always been an option but we were told that building on the current footprint would mean the place would have to close, and places like the swimming club would lose some of its members and we tried to avoid that. It will be more expensive, too. There is no U-turn.”

A new site at Bar End, on land owned by Tesco, also remains an option.

Cllr Wood said Tesco will sell the land only for housing development. As part of any deal, he said, the council would receive a parcel of land to develop the leisure centre.

“The people of Bar End would not be happy about that loss of green space, just as with the people at River Park,” he said.

News that a newbuild on the current site will be considered was met with surprise by many councillors.

Cllr Brian Collin, a Liberal Democrat, said: “I had heard that the advice Keith Wood had was that building on the current footprint couldn’t be done. I did not think it was possible, but if it is, I would like to see what he is proposing.”

Campaigners cautiously welcomed the news yesterday (Feb 3).

James McConnachie, of Save the Rec, said: “Why the U-turn? The council seems to be lurching from one option to the next based on politics and council agendas – it doesn’t fill us with confidence.”

It has also emerged that the University of Winchester has changed its stance and will now consider contributing funds, meaning the option of a 50m swimming pool is on the table.

Councillors will discuss the options at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, February 12.