CITY councillors have paved the way for the controversial conversion of Winchester’s Chesil Street open-air car park into a 51-unit local authority old people’s housing scheme.

Member of the Cabinet Housing Committee today approved an officers’ recommendation that a planning application for the £10m project, drawn up in conjunction with PDP Chartered Architects, be submitted, possibly as soon as September.

There has been a 25 per cent rise in the number of householders over the age of 85 in the district since 2001, prompting a fillip in demand for “extra care” accommodation.

But nearby residents and businesses are worried about the loss of a car park which is usually full, believing the nearby multi-storey facility to be an unsuitable alternative for several reasons, including safety.

They are also concerned that any new development will be a tall “monolithic, institutional block” clashing with existing buildings along the historic street.

City Council planning officer Andrew Palmer explained how the Chesil Street multi-storey could be upgraded, with new lighting and more CCTV coverage, to improve safety.

He also said more on-street permit parking bays could be added in Wharf Hill to replace the ones lost through the development.

Cllr Janet Berry suggested erecting the housing scheme on land currently used for the Middle Brook Street car park instead, as this would put elderly residents much closer to city centre amenities.

But committee chair Cllr Ian Tait said there were complexities about all the other potential sites which had led to them being discounted.

He said those living in and around Chesil Street had “accepted a degree of inevitability about the project”, but added: “I don’t think they will be celebrating.”