PLANS to revamp Basingstoke Leisure Park and create 2,400 new jobs in the town were met with mixed reactions by the borough council.

The Community, Environment and Partnerships Committee discussed the proposals at a meeting last Thursday in a heated debate, which saw opposition councillors criticise the plans for turning the park into a retail outlet.

The plans include doubling the size of the Leisure Park to replace all the facilities other than Milestones Museum.

This includes a brand new Aquadrome alongside a dual-use ice rink and events arena.

Other new attractions that could feature as part of the transformation include a velodrome for cycling, a children’s activity centre and extreme sports facilities such as a climbing wall or surfing centre to complement the existing indoor skydiving centre.

There could also be a 300,000sq ft designer outlet centre, a new hotel and improved public access to Saunders Fields.

Under the plans, Saunders Field would be opened up as an ecology area, with a footbridge across the Churchill Way West dual carriageway.

The emerging proposals are part of a package for a major overhaul of the park, which could create an estimated 2,400 jobs while bringing nearly £200 million of investment to the borough.

A report, prepared for the council meeting, said that “significant investment” is needed to upgrade the Leisure Park, including the Aquadrome, which the report said “requires significant capital investment by the council in the next few years”.

The council is in discussion with NewRiver Retail to deliver the project, estimated to cost £191.2 million in building construction.

The report said: “The development proposals would be a ‘game-changer’ for the borough in that the scale and scope of leisure provided would be regionally significant but also make a significant difference to the quality of leisure on offer for local people. Such a development would further enhance the reputation of the borough and fit well with the council’s quality aspirations for developments at Basing View and Manydown.”

It added that the council’s annual rent of £330,000 from the Leisure Park will “increase substantially under the new proposals”.

However, opposition councillors criticised the plans for focusing too heavily on retail rather than leisure facilities.

Cllr Gavin James, leader of the Liberal Democrats group, said the retail plans for the site would “migrate to a carbon copy or a replacement of Festival Place and The Malls”.

He also questioned what the space labelled “nutrition leisure activity” would be, adding that it “looks awfully like a very nice supermarket”.

He added: “There is a risk that our leisure park will become more and more just a retail park with Milestones at the end and a swimming pool.”

Cllr Laura James, leader of the Labour group, told the meeting: “Of course we want a vibrant leisure park going forward, but this isn’t a leisure park. As Cllr Gavin James said, this is a retail park. We are not after having another town centre, we have a town centre, we need to cherish that town centre going forward.”

Conservative councillor Dan Putty spoke in favour of the plans, saying: “The scheme put forward by River Retail of such high-quality will benefit our communities for years to come. It will complement what we already have.”

Cllr John Izett, cabinet member for finance, suggested the development could attract “tourists” to the town, adding: “They might like to spend a few days here and wander around the town and spend money in the town centre.”

Cllr Izett added further that “it would be the largest leisure park in the UK”.