Winchester needs a new sports and leisure centre

Remember the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics? Their success underlined the value of sport to communities, and to our nation as a whole. Sport brings people together, improving health and well-being, strengthening community identity, and inspiring young and old alike through competitive success. It's also increasingly important economically.

However, Winchester was not well placed to draw on the Olympic legacy to improve sports participation or generate economic benefits, due to gaps in local provision and a public sports and leisure facility that is well past its prime. Winchester has very high participation in sport and active recreation by national standards, but we don't have the facilities to match, and our local clubs and swim schools have long waiting lists. Children and adults alike are missing out on opportunities to get active, try new things, develop their skills and achieve their goals.

WE MUST DO BETTER. Winchester needs a place to play, a place to train and a place to compete – a place that will inspire the whole community to engage in sport and experience the many benefits it can offer.

Local volunteers researched and developed community proposals for new facilities, which were published in 2012. Since then, we have urged Winchester City Council to work with local partners, to plan for the construction and operation of a new centre – Winchester’s 2012 Olympic legacy.

Where we are now: 

  • Winchester’s current sports provision is patchy. Local facilities for training and competition are inadequate, even for the most popular sports – such as swimming, netball, football and gymnastics.
  • Specifically, River Park Leisure Centre (RPLC) is showing its age. It is energy inefficient, with a large carbon footprint. Capital investment of at least £4m is needed for repairs and refurbishment, to keep the facility going even for another decade.  

  • A new sports and leisure centre is needed, to expand sports participation, support health and well-being, and develop local talent. 

  • From 2011-2013, through the Winchester Fit for the Future project, top local sports clubs worked with the University of Winchester and other local stakeholders to develop proposals for a new facility. Since then, Winchester City Council has put forward several options, first at North Walls and then at Bar End. Local volunteers have given detailed feedback on these, in 2013 on the North Walls proposals and in 2016 on those for Bar End. We have offered to work in partnership with WCC and others, to ensure the best possible outcome for local people.

Where we want to be:

  • Winchester is an active community. Any new facility should foster broad participation in sports while also nurturing talent and promoting excellence.

  • The new centre should be accessible to the full range of potential users, within the City, broader District, and beyond. Bar End would be an ideal location. It is close to the City centre yet also accessible to others across the District, adjacent to M3 Junction 10, and served by Park and Ride buses and car parks. It is already home to the athletics stadium and sports pitches.

  • Facility design and construction should incorporate maximum flexibility, to serve as wide a population and as many sports and leisure interests as possible. For example, a 50m Aquazone with variable depth and partitions could support learn-to-swim classes, training, competitive swimming, diving, water polo, aqua aerobics, hydrotherapy and more; a well-designed Courtzone could support all levels of competitive basketball, netball and volleyball alongside other court sports, indoor training (for e.g. cricket, athletics, hockey, futsal) and fitness classes; and an appropriately equipped Gymzone with sprung floor could support gymnastics, trampolining, martial arts and many other activities.

  • Such flexibility will promote maximum usage and help maintain financial viability.

  • The new centre should also be energy efficient and sustainable, using the best in green technology. This will minimize running costs and ensure longevity – and help Winchester meet its carbon reduction targets. 

  • Spending millions patching RPLC means pouring good money after bad. Taxpayers' money would be better invested in a new, sustainable facility.
  • Major developments – including any major house-building programmes – could also generate funds for a new sports and leisure facility, if WCC used the Community Infrastructure Levy and New Homes Bonus to this end.

  • Other funding sources include: the University of Winchester, which has already committed £6m to the Bar End project; other local institutions wishing to support sport, health and well-being; community fundraising; energy, environmental and sports-related grants; sponsorship from local businesses. 

Winchester should aim high – and the time to do so is now.