Dear Editor,

Following the publication of your editorial titled ‘Basingstoke Deserves Better’, we wanted to write to you and your readers to set the scene for our work to shape the future of the borough.

As a council, we are absolutely committed to doing everything we can to make sure Basingstoke and Deane is a great borough to live, work and visit and where everyone has a chance to thrive.

We know the COVID-19 pandemic has been hard for the borough. We have delivered millions of pounds of vital support to residents and businesses. But it doesn’t stop there and it is vital that we continue to work with our partners to make sure the borough bounces back better than ever through our economic recovery by attracting new businesses, supporting small businesses to prosper, boosting jobs and skills opportunities for our residents and making sure we have high-quality infrastructure and sustainable homes for everyone.

Read more: Empty shops at a record-high ... Basingstoke Deserves Better 

The retail sector has been hit particularly hard during this time and the decline of the traditional high street is a national issue with high streets across the UK continuing to experience the effects of changes in shopping habits.

We have launched a number of new initiatives to support retailers and encourage shoppers to return to the town centre to boost footfall. This includes the new Borough Basket Street Market which gives small local businesses the opportunity to raise their profile and sell their goods to a wider audience and we are also developing and supporting an extensive programme of events and activities for the next six months to attract more footfall to the town centre, including the award-winning international film festival, Exit 6.

The council also funds free support and advice through IncuHive for anyone interested in starting a new business in the borough.

Supporting hospitality businesses across Basingstoke and Deane, we have provided grants to allow them to purchase outdoor equipment to create or extend outdoor seating areas and serve more customers and to encourage new businesses to take up empty space in the town centre, we will be launching a new shop front grant scheme shortly which will provide funding for new and existing retailers to improve or help refurbish their premises.

Read more: Basingstoke's empty shop crisis - 50 vacant units across town 

We are also developing a package of other business support initiatives.

But it is important that we take a long-term view to make sure our town centre is a vibrant hub and top shopping, culture and leisure destination that attracts visitors and brings valuable jobs to the area, offering the best in urban working, living, shopping and leisure facilities for everyone.

The development of an ambitious strategy for the town centre area is perfectly timed and has been a key priority for the council for some time, with the pandemic only emphasising the importance of long-term plans.

We are working with experts in the field and our town centre partners, based on residents’ views, to consider bold short, medium and long-term opportunities to revitalise the town centre over the next 25 years through a new vision and masterplan and we will be asking for the views of residents, businesses and community groups next month to shape this.

As well as our work to support the town centre, we deliver services such as waste collections, making sure our streets are clean, preventing homelessness, community safety patrols and much more to over 75,000 properties across Basingstoke and Deane.
Against a backdrop of falling government funding, it is getting harder to do this and we are having to transform and deliver services in a different way and work innovatively to raise additional income to protect our services for the future.

However, we are passionate about helping to deliver the best borough we can for our residents and ensuring they can enjoy high-quality facilities and activities on their doorstep including sports and leisure and cultural activities and events – recognising this is key to everyone’s health and wellbeing.

Since 2015, we have invested over £5.4 million in sports, continue to provide millions of pounds to support community organisations to deliver activities in the heart of our communities and provide one of the highest expenditures per head of population on arts and culture across the country, going much further than a borough of our size would.

We are an ambitious and forward-thinking council and alongside delivering day-to-day services that residents value, we are looking to the future, making far-reaching decisions and putting solid foundations in place for our children and our children’s children so the borough is the kind of place they want it to be in 30 years’ time and everyone has the same opportunities to thrive.

Much has been done but there is still lots more to do. Through our regeneration of Basing View, we have created thousands of new jobs for the borough and we are closer than ever to creating an exciting garden town community with up to 3,520 new homes and vital infrastructure at Manydown.

And as a borough, we must all take action now to meet our challenging target of becoming a carbon-neutral borough by 2030, creating a healthier place to live and work.

However, we do not have the financial resources and ability to do all of this on our own. To be successful we have to work in partnership to deliver our ambitious goals and a huge investment programme for the next 30 years.

There are a number of things that we cannot control and that is why partnerships are key. Large parts of the town centre including Festival Place and a number of units at the Top of the Town are held by private owners through long leases, as are sports facilities such as the Camrose and the ice rink. As a council, we have little influence on the decisions taken by the private operators of these facilities.

It is important that we think about all residents across the borough and their needs now and in the future and it is not appropriate for the council to allocate millions of pounds of public money to prop up private companies who own these facilities.

As a result of past decisions, our financial standing is stable despite one of the most challenging financial periods in history but we need to think about future generations and direct our support to the continued provision of essential services for all of our residents in the future so they have the same opportunities to thrive.

Residents, businesses and partners are at the heart of this borough. We cannot achieve all that we want to do, without all of us understand what we need to do to improve the borough, because no one can do everything but everyone can do something.

It is vital that we all do our bit to help the town centre, and the rest of the borough, by supporting local businesses and shopping local and I want to reassure residents that we are working day and night to ensure Basingstoke remains a great place to live and work for years to come.

Cllr Ken Rhatigan, Leader of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council