A £1 million community building planned for Huntingdon’s Coneygear Park could be open as early as Christmas.

The plan, by Huntingdon Town Council, will replace the nearby Medway Centre and offer far better facilities as well as being more economical to run - but the scheme has angered some local residents who say it will eat into an important open space.

Huntingdonshire District Council's development management committee approved the new community centre at its meeting on Monday, even though it was a departure from the local plan which guides development.

Huntingdon town clerk Philip Peacock said: "We are very pleased and it means we can now get the tenders out and start moving forward.

"We hope to get the foundations in by September or October and with a fair wind it could be ready by Christmas although, it is more likely to be in January next year."

Mr Peacock said the building would cost around £1 million with the funding coming as a result of the deal with the district council to swap ownerships of the Medway Centre and the One leisure building.

He said the new building would only occupy about 12 per cent of the park and would offer much better facilities than the Medway Centre which was 40 years old and was basically an agricultural building.

Former councillor James Fell, who objected to the plan, said it was contrary to the development plan and would lead to the loss of part of the park.

"It is a valuable open space and once it is gone it is gone," he said.

Dyan Duffy said there had been no proper consultation over the plan and Amanda Norton said she had a number of medical problems and used the park daily.

"Normal exercise is not available to me and the park is where I go to exercise," she said.

She added that the site's car park would increase pollution which would compromise her health.

But Mr Peacock told the meeting that it would cost more than £600,000 to update the Medway Centre which was already heavily used and the new building would provide more space as well as opportunities for activities such as boxing and Zumba. It would also be more cost effective to run.

Cllr Jason Ablewhite said: "I think it would be remiss of us not to support this, frankly. I think there is a balance here and there are real community benefits."