A SENIOR borough councillor has hit out at Hampshire County Council over their decision to close Chapel Hill to motor traffic.

Cllr Mark Ruffell (Conservative, Upton Grey and the Candovers), who is the cabinet member for planning, infrastructure and the natural environment, labelled the scheme as "potty" at a meeting of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council on Thursday night, and criticised the county council for not consulting in the proper way.

It comes after residents and councillors called out the council for not consulting with residents, saying that shutting the road to all traffic apart from buses, pedestrians and cyclists will turn residential roads in South View into rat runs.

The scheme is being funded by a government scheme to make temporary changes to road layouts in order to allow people to walk and cycle, and be able to social distance whilst doing so.

At the first full council meeting since the coronavirus lockdown, Cllr Ruffell said: "I have made it clear to our officers, who are not the transport authority, that I thought the scheme was potty.

"I then went and had a meeting with the county council officers and I said that I just can't agree with it. I couldn't understand how all of it has got a limited number of exits, and also contains the historic Kingsclere Road which has one of the main thoroughfares into the borough, is suddenly being cut off."

READ MORE: Councillors object to Chapel Hill closure

Cllr Ruffell says that the county council officers said that they were going to go ahead with it anyway, because it had the support of Cllr Mike Westbrook, who is a county councillor for Basingstoke Central as well as a borough councillor for Brookvale and Kings Furlong.

Cllr Westbrook (Basingstoke and Deane Independent), however, clarified this, saying: "I wasn't the decision maker with Chapel Hill and Cllr Ruffell's fellow Conservative county council were, and Cllr Ruffell's own Conservative government funded these schemes at very short notice as a response to Covid-19.

It is his government that said it has to be done at pace and without the usual level of consultation."

Cllr Westbrook added that he has been ensuring his residents' views are raised at "the highest level", adding that the scheme is a "pop up trial" and that it can be removed in 2-3 days if necessary.

The councillors were debating a question asked by Labour group leader Cllr Andy McCormick, where he expressed his "concern and disappointment at the lack of consultation being given by Hampshire County Council for implementing changes to our transport infrastructure".

The Brighton Hill South representative added: "Many residents will be left feeling disenfranchised and excluded, with taxation without representation from the county council."

READ MORE: Landlord fuming after council decides to close Chapel Hill

Cllr Ruffell added: "The whole method of dealing with us is not as I would like it and I have made it clear to our officers and them that they may be the transport authority, but they are 50-50 partners with us."

He added that the chairman of the Economic, Planning and Housing committee (EPH), Cllr Stuart Frost (Con, Oakley and North Waltham), will be inviting HCC officers to a meeting "hopefully in the autumn so that EPH can discuss with them".

"Thereafter I want to have stage meetings each year to make sure that we understand what they are up to and why they are up to it, and also ask them why some of the major schemes around Basingstoke simply haven't happened, such as Eastrop roundabout, such as two-way traffic at the top of town," he continued.

It is just not good enough, and then suddenly they see a bit of money being flashed by the government and can't wait to spend it in a way that is completely unnecessary."

Cllr Rob Humby, HCC's executive member for economy, transport and environment, said in response: "We have worked at pace, and as soon as Government guidance and timescales were available, to support the safe, economic recovery of Hampshire as national Covid-19 lockdown restrictions ease.

"The scheme to close Chapel Hill tunnel to all motor vehicles, except buses, taxis and cycles will help social distancing as cyclists will ride on the road, which will have less traffic on it, thereby freeing up capacity for pedestrians on the footway. Access for car traffic to The Rising Sun pub and the cemetery still remains from the northern end of Chapel Hill. On Vyne Road, the rail tunnel will also be closed, enabling cyclists to use the road through the tunnel, separating from pedestrians on the footway. Access to the rail station car park will be retained.

“The transport and travel measures we are putting place are to support the re-opening of town centres and businesses to help enable social distancing measures, giving people the confidence to return, and to enable more people to walk and cycle, reflecting changing travel patterns during the Coronavirus outbreak. These plans are being developed with Hampshire’s district and borough councils, Business Improvement Districts, town and parish councils, and other organisations who have expressed an interest.

"It is important to note that the delivery of these temporary measures requires that we work at speed and scale – they will therefore not be subject to the same level of consultation as permanent transport infrastructure.  This scheme will be in place towards the end of this week and will be monitored regularly. There will also be a QR bar code on site which you can scan using a smartphone to provide your feedback. We will review schemes regularly and they will be altered if necessary. Schemes may also be considered for retention where appropriate, based in part on careful feedback from local people and businesses and evidence of effectiveness.”