THE Conservative leader of the borough council has faced criticism over comments he made during an interview in reference to growing the town.

Communications company PLMR spoke with Councillor Ken Rhatigan for its ‘Conversation with…’ series last year.

In a write-up of the event, the company reported that Cllr Rhatigan had urged developers to get in contact to ask about sites or development opportunities.

It also reported on Cllr Rhatigan’s vision for the town to become the “capital of the south” – something he first said to the Gazette back in 2019.

The leader spoke about his hopes for North Hampshire to become a unitary council, meaning it would be responsible for all local government functions. Typically, unitary authorities cover towns or cities which are large enough to function independently of a council or other authority.

However, his comments have been met with criticism by some.

Simon Preedy, from Hatch Warren, fears the leader’s vision could result in villages “being developed beyond recognition”.

In an email sent to councillors and Basingstoke MP Maria Miller, he added: “What a legacy he wants to leave us with.”

He also questioned whether fellow councillors want to see the town expand in such a way.

Mrs Miller responded to say she remains “keenly interested in the handling of the local plan in Basingstoke and ensuring we only have the appropriate levels of housing building”.

She added: “Basingstoke is in an almost unique situation having built many more homes than almost anywhere else in the UK over the past 40 years. Plans for the future have to take this into account.”

Councillor Diane Taylor, a Conservative borough councillor for Oakley and the Candovers, also responded saying she is “adamantly opposed to the excessive housing demands on this borough”.

On Thursday members of the council’s economic, housing and planning committee will discuss a report on the Local Plan which sets out the outcomes of a detailed study on the levels of future growth.

Cllr Taylor said she will be expressing her views at this meeting, adding: “It is…vital, in my opinion, that we resist the imposition of eye-watering numbers of new homes (and also massive warehouse developments that do little good to anyone but the owners of the land and warehouse business).

“Our countryside and villages should be protected from any development that ruins the landscape, enjoyed by everyone – not just village residents, and our town should be enhanced for the good of current residents, not to fulfil the excessive demands for new housing.”

She also pointed out that the borough has “taken far more than its fair share of housing, and we must resist further demands that will alter the unique charm of living here”.

When asked for a comment, Cllr Rhatigan said: “The expression that Basingstoke could become the capital of the south was made in an interview with your paper when I first became leader and as you can imagine much has to be revaluated post pandemic.”

Asked whether he reiterated this comment to PLMR in November, he said: “The quote was made in 2019 and not again in November.”

He added: “I believe that only by good dialogue between the planning authority and developers will we ensure the greenest, and best for any future development in the borough.”