Winchester Sports and Leisure Centre: A postmortem on four years of campaigning

Photograph of Winchester Sport and Leisure Parl during construction
Maps howing new cycle routes implemented for Winchester Sport and Leisure Centre
Royal blue markings show aspects of the cycle provision for the new Leisure Centre.

In 2018 plans for a proposed Winchester Sport and Leisure Centre (WSLC) were submitted for approval. At the time Cycle Winchester (CW) raised a number of transport related objections and these were mainly ignored with some non-binding offers to consider improvements during the construction progress. Since completion we have continued to push for improvements to what has been delivered. This article is a review of the outcome and the small improvements that have been achieved.


The decision to build at Bar End was driven by a number of requirements including the 50m pool and the provision of a centre for the wider Winchester population. These meant the existing users of River Park Leisure centre could be largely ignored, as they would form a smaller percentage of users. WSLC users were largely expected to arrive by car – including from the M3.

Initial impressions are that WSLC is well-used – but the user base has changed. The gym in particular has attracted a good number of younger users as it is well equipped and competitively-priced. It is likely that those that previously walked to River Park will not use WSLC as frequently. Anecdotally some are using WSLC by stopping off on their commute along the M3.

With the focus on car users other modes of transport were effectively ignored. It will be a while before we see any data on transport modes but it would seem likely the non car travel will be a rather smaller percentage than at River Park – this was a planned outcome. With free parking, car users have no incentive to use buses (both inconvenient and more costly). However it is pleasing to see the cycle stands are well used at times – probably helped by pre-car-owning youngsters.

Issues raised during the project

From the outset CW has raised issues to try and improve and encourage cycle access to WSLC. The following sections identify issues in the development project, which Cycle Winchester highlighted, andy the outcome of our objections.

Application at variance to WCC & HCC Travel strategies

Issue: The application ignored a number of Hampshire County Council strategies including Winchester Cycling Strategy, Town Access plan, Hampshire Cycling Strategy and local transport plan.

Outcome: It became apparent that none of these really mattered in the face of a getting a sport centre built. Any consultation and traffic survey work was likely to be ignored. Cycle Winchester’s objection was ignored.

Transport assessment was of poor quality and contained errors

Issue: The assessment made no attempt take into account the emerging Winchester Movement Strategy. Generally the work was of poor quality and made use of assumption of changes in mode that were not supported by evidence. It did predict a 60% reduction of cycling and walking compared with River Park.

Outcome: In response to our feedback, some corrections to the most obvious errors were made; however in the end it made little difference as the project was going ahead come regardless.

Lack of cycle parking

Issue: The original plans did not show satisfactory cycle parking. 

Outcome: Decent covered racks were provided and are well used – potentially need increased capacity!

Mitigating measures

Issue: A small number of mitigation measures were included – primarily a Toucan crossing and link between Barfield Close and Domum Road. It was pointed out these were not very useful. It felt like their inclusion was more of a box ticking exercise.

Outcome: These have been built and, as predicted are, not very useful. See below for details.

Issue: This was always going to be a substandard route that was not particularly useful – riders are more likely to use the road. A catalogue of ideas of how not to design a cycle link. See our earlier article. Once it had been constructed we made some suggestions for minor improvements. But you can’t make a silk purse of a sow’s ear.

Outcome: Changes to the ramp and dropped kerb in one place have been made. A minor success!

Issue: We suggested during the planning process, that a useful link could be provided to Highcliffe, to facilitate access to the WSLC and also to expland the network of useful cycleways.

Outcome: No link was created, possibly due to resistance from the land-owner (University of Winchester).

Issue: Likewise, we suggested a link to Winnall would enhance cycle access.

Outcome: No link was created, possibly due to resistance from the land-owner.

Lessons learned

Was it ever possible to achieve much?

When it suits HCC / WCC they will ignore their own policies. There seems to no way to hold them to account to policies that appear to be non-binding. But this is one battle in an ongoing campaign. At some point it must be seen that policies have actual impact on decisions.

It is worth noting that once the WSLC project was launched (signed off and contracts awarded) there was very little scope to change anything due to fixed price contracts and an apparently fully committed budget.

The time spent by Cycle Winchester over that last few years has not really achieved much on the ground. A couple of minor improvements to the Barfield Close Domum road link but little else.

However there are some positive notes for the future:
  • WSLC provided a focal point for a number of pressure groups in Winchester.
  • We have shown we can be critical of poor quality work from analysis to delivery and we will continue to do this in the future. Poor provision may be worse than no provision.
  • The engagement prompted the formation of Cycle Winchester and helped to raise our profile and credibility with WCC & HCC as, we hope, a critical friend. There has been more engagement with the councils recently.
What could / should be done differently next time?

Early engagement is essential – before too much detail is committed. We try to do this but it’s not always been possible.

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