Page last updated at 06:36 GMT, Friday, 5 February 2010

Anger at Southampton medieval site proposals

Inside a wine vault
Southampton used to export wool and import wine

Proposals to sell off land in a historic part of Southampton have attracted anger among some groups.

The city council wants to develop Lower High Street with flats and businesses which it claims would pay for future preservation of medieval wine vaults.

But campaigners have argued that precious and well-used open space would be lost.

Any development proposals, which are at an early stage, would have to go through a public consultation period.

The wine vaults date back hundreds of years when Southampton exported wool and imported wine.

But the surviving structures, close to the Solent, are decaying and water is seeping into some of the stone work.

'Hitler's damage'

Proposals to preserve the vaults, which used to be beneath merchant houses, would allow development on top of them and on surrounding open space.

Kevin White, historic environment team leader with the council, said: "Buildings live, they actually adapt and they develop.

"If they don't adapt and if they don't develop then they become fossilised and they become empty, they become redundant and that's the biggest danger to these kinds of buildings."

Open space next to wine vaults
Campaigners argue that many flats close by are unoccupied

The area became a public space after being bombed during World War II.

Opposition groups have said that the proposed developments are not the way to preserve the area's history and a petition has been set up among local residents.

Genevieve Bailey, a local historian, said: "If the council gets away with doing it they are going to do more damage to this town than Adolf Hitler managed to do during World War II."

Campaigner Ros Cassy said that the area was still well used.

"We don't understand why they have to get rid of the whole park and the green area just to save the vaults," she added.

"There are loads of flats in this area, many of which are currently unoccupied."

The council said that although some open space would be lost, any development would include local areas.

It stressed that proposals were at a very early stage.

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