WinACC's response is summed up in our letter to the editor of the Hampshire Chronicle:

Sir: even more important than the location of a new Leisure Centre in Winchester is its long-term impact on the environment. The architect's brief for the  new Leisure Centre should require a design with the smallest possible carbon footprint. If it is well insulated, perhaps the Centre could capture enough heat from people exercising to heat the swimming pool water!  Winchester City Council would demonstrate its commitment to cutting its own carbon footprint, and increase its income by generating solar electricity on the roof.  And our children and grandchildren get a double benefit - a top quality sports facility and less global warming.

In more detail, WinACC  Built Environment and Transport Action Groups submitted comments to Winchester City Council on 18 November 2013, the first day of the Winchester City Council public exhibition about the options (details about the exhibition here).

They said: we agree that the questions asked by the City of Winchester Trust are fundamental and await your answers. (See end). We wish in addition to place before you our specific concerns.

We consider the argument for a speedy decision used at the stake-holder’s meeting on 26 September 2013, namely that market conditions are now favourable, to be fallacious, as the lead time for a project of this complexity must be years rather than months and no one can foresee how the market will change.

We have no special expertise in the field of sports provision and so will not comment on the question of the length of the swimming pool or the number of lanes.

In reaching its decision, the City Council needs to know:

  1. The travel patterns of the present users.
  2. How an improved sports centre will relate to the proposed new facility being planned for Eastleigh borough and avoid duplication of highly specific provisions.
  3. The future development strategy for the rejected sites under consideration
Access and Transport

We broadly concur with the arguments put forward in the Savills’ report.

Comparing the two sites, the River Park site has the advantage of access and transport. This is in conformity with the first of the “Ten Principles” embedded in the “Vision for Winchester Town 2012 – 2017”: “A city that is good for and encourages walking and cycling, with as near a traffic-free area within the historic walls as is compatible with economic success and freedom of movement for all”. In addition it supports principle 9: “Development of a vibrant and healthy economic and cultural life in the city which attracts inward investment. This includes business, education, events, sports, entertainment and tourism.”

We favour intensification of land-use and are opposed to dispersal. The River Park site, provided the parking provision is not increased, will tend towards increased vibrancy in the city centre. 

Parking

Savills’ report states that the parking levels they applied are derived from a formula, which, we contend, may be appropriate only for out-of-town locations. As they acknowledge, the site is close to public transport routes.

The parking provision should be less than proposed on two counts: the presence of public transport in the vicinity;  and the availability of other parking facilities nearby.

The assumed parking requirement is exaggerated:

  • the recent (May 2013) council survey of car parking shows that only 60% of drivers visiting Winchester who gave the purpose of their journey as ‘leisure’ parked in River Park. There is a willingness to park elsewhere.
  • 32% of the cars that parked at River Park came to Winchester with a primary purpose other than leisure, no doubt attracted to River Park by the lowest parking charges in central Winchester.
  • 36% of users came from within Winchester and could potentially be encouraged to use public transport.

Given that the purpose of the facility is to promote health and well-being, it is counterproductive to encourage the use of private transport as a means of access. It reduces “active travel” i.e. walking and cycling, and inflicts noise, congestion and pollution on the surrounding community. River Park is especially unsuitable as a location for a car park because cars using it are forced to drive on the already saturated circulatory system. We believe that facilities should be provided in places like the Cattle Market, filtering off cars before they are trapped in the central circulatory system.

Furthermore, we urge that car parks in Winchester should not be regarded as discrete or dedicated to a particular facility; the potential of all parking within easy walking distance of either site should be included in the overall evaluation of each site. For example, the Cattle Market / Worthy Road/Coach Park sites are generally under-used, and provide enough spaces for a leisure centre at River Park. From the Cattle Market site the walk to River Park is particularly pleasant and virtually car-free.

The recent survey carried out by the council in May 2013 showed  about 150 empty spaces at the busiest times; at peak 7pm parking time for the leisure centre there will have been over 200 empty spaces.

The same would apply if a decision were made to locate the new facility at Bar End. The potential site is close to two Park and Ride sites with a total capacity of 770 places. The recent survey carried out by the council in May 2013 showed that St Catherine’s car park always had at least 315 empty spaces, usually more. By 7pm there would be even more empty spaces at both car parks. To maximize the benefits of the investment in the Park & Ride sites, the bus service to and from them should be extended into the evening.

Landscape and Visual Considerations

Under this heading we conclude that Savills’ assessment is sound. The flood risk on the River Park site is another reason why the parking should be kept to a minimum and areas of soft planting retained and if possible extended. We are opposed to the loss of informal green spaces on environmental and sustainability grounds. 

Sustainability

This is an opportunity for WCC to demonstrate its commitment to reducing the district’s exceptionally high emissions by insisting that any new development achieves at least a BREEAM excellent performance, preferably outstanding. This will reduce the District’s running costs over the life of the building.

The installation of combined heat and power (CHP) co-generation or possibly tri-generation can help meet this objective. Tri-generation includes absorption chillers, which as our climate changes could represent a substantial demand. A sports centre is eminently suited to CHP because it has a pretty even base-load throughout the seasons.

CHP can successfully be combined with district heating and a private wire company, as has been demonstrated over many years in Woking, through an ESCo.  This could potentially be an income stream for WCC.

The Savills’ report suggests that, with careful planning, it might be possible to free up part of the either site for other development. If this were found to be feasible, a CHP could also serve such a further development.

Questions submitted to WCC from the City of Winchester Trust 30 October 2013

Is the replacement Centre intended for the people of Winchester Town and the ‘villages that look to Winchester’, or is it to meet the needs of the whole or a major part of the District (and perhaps even a wider catchment area as argued by Fit4the Future)?  The scale of the Centre and the facilities provided must be critically dependent on the answer to this question, and have an important bearing on the most suitable location.

Supplementary questions include:

  1. Has any user research been undertaken on this question?
  2. Based on this or other information, what is the forecast use over the day, and the potential additional use in relation to existing vehicle, cycle and pedestrian movements on the respective approach routes, and the effect of forecast traffic on congestion in the City’s road system as a whole (including implications for carbon generation and pollution)?  It is assumed that public transport can be adjusted to suit the selected option.
  3. Is the additional car-parking provision essential if based on the forecast use rather than national standards, and are there not existing car parks in both locations with adequate spare capacity?
  4. Has any consultation taken place with Fareham and Eastleigh, both of which we understand to be contemplating new or replacement centres? Could special facilities be shared between the authorities? 

Environmental and social issues – assuming that a rebuild on the existing footprint is not a likely option, there seem to be varying opinions about how much additional land would be needed, and where, at the River Park (RP) site, and similarly, whether it would be necessary to buy land at the Bar End (BE) site.  In the latter case, to what extent could the cost be offset by redevelopment of the RP site and for what purpose?

Further questions include:

  1. Do ground conditions at either site have a significant effect on building cost?
  2. Is there an expert ecological report on the implications of building on either site, particularly in the case of RP where the adjoining land is so sensitive?
  3. Has an expert assessment been made of the landscape impact in each case?  The Savills report has shown that a building at BE would be visible from the National Park (NP); is this important and could it be adequately mitigated by planting (either on the hill or on the site)? 
  4. Will there be appropriate measures to achieve the best possible visual impact at either location by ensuring a high and appropriate quality of building design?  An expert brief and an RIBA supervised architectural competition could ensure that such a significant new building would be worthy of Winchester as well as fulfilling the technical requirements now and for the expected life of the facility.
  5. Has there been any comparative assessment of social opinion in addition to the forms of appraisal and analysis used by Savills?