A NEW leadership took control of Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council in May after the opposition councillors successfully passed a motion to remove the Conservative administration.

During a full council meeting held on Thursday, May 18, the leader of the Basingstoke Independent Forum, Cllr Paul Harvey, was appointed as the council’s new leader.

The Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Gavin James was announced as the deputy leader but will be known as co-leader, and he will also be the cabinet member for finance, business and property.

The Gazette sat down with the new leaders to discuss the pressing issues of Basingstoke and Deane.

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Here are the excerpts from the interview:

How do you feel about the new role?

Gavin James (GJ): Very exciting. It’s a huge opportunity to make good, positive change for Basingstoke and Deane.

Paul Harvey (PH): We are looking forward to having the ability to do something that makes a difference to people’s lives, which we have talked for many years. Now we have got a chance to put that into action.

What do you think you can do that the previous leaderships could not do?

PH: It’s about the focus – looking forward and not looking into the past. Providing good services is absolutely key to us. We also want to focus on affordable housing and major projects. We want to see a culture change and a change in how we do politics in Basingstoke and Deane.

What would you say to the people of Basingstoke who are concerned that the new leadership is just another political group?

GJ: I think people have become very switched off with politics. They don’t believe anything politicians say. They don’t deliver what they promise to do. And they just spend all the time bickering. We want to do things differently. We want to work on things where we agree. We want to work together for the better of Basingstoke. We want to be honest and transparent. If people ask for stuff, and we can't deliver it, let's be honest about that. We also want to work together, putting differences aside. It's going to be hard work when you've got people of different political starting points. But we were elected to work hard. So, let's do that.

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Are you excited by this challenge?

PH: I think there are some really important things that we want to see rolled out and changed. We've got a great team. It’s great to see the enthusiasm and the excitement among the officers. We recognise the responsibility that we've got. But we see it as an opportunity to serve, and give back to our residents and listen to them. It's about time they feel that it’s ‘their council’ and to feel connected, in how we approach, how we do things, the openness, transparency.

GJ: And there's a huge amount of energy within the cabinet as well. It's hard work in terms of what we want to achieve, but we are keen to achieve as much as we can.

Is that approach something that pushes the new leadership forward?

GJ: That's the start of the inclusive approach. There are 54 councillors – they all represent very different places and different communities. All of them are equally important to us. So, it's not just about our two groups, and the eight people in the cabinet. It's about 54 different people all contributing to making the best decisions we can for the people of Basingstoke.

READ MORE: Cllr Paul Harvey appointed to lead the council

In the short term, what are the pressing issues of Basingstoke?

GJ: Like Paul already mentioned, it's about improving services, making sure we get the streets cleaner. We've got to deal with the burning issue of the local plan. We want to make sure we build the right houses. We also want to make progress on the bigger ambitions, the things like the leisure park, town centre, and Manydown. It's about making a difference.

PH: It's that notion of living in clean, well-looked-after areas that will have pride in the communities. It's about targeting the council's resources for the frontline services and people having confidence in that. For example, we want to scrap rural car parking charges and the Eastrop Park charges. We want to hand the park back to the people. We want to improve our outdoor areas for people of all ages. Gavin rightly says that access to affordable housing is so important. We want to open that out as a real driver in the council. We want to create a housing company that this council can drive forward the delivery of affordable housing in the borough.

Cllr Harvey, you were in the development control committee. You know there’s a housing crisis and on the other side there are calls to stop these developments. So how do you find the balance as the council leader?

PH: It's very important that we get the right affordable housing for people because we do have people on the housing register that are in desperate need of homes. And we need to make sure that the homes that we build are accessible and affordable. But we have to protect our environment and rivers. We have to make sure that how we go about developing a local plan. Because there has to be a local plan that meets the people's expectations. But the government holds all the cards on this. So we need the government to step up to give us the local powers to find our local plan that meets all of those expectations.

READ MORE: Basingstoke council rejects Government housing numbers

GJ: And I don't think there's a disconnect between those who are very frustrated that they can't access a house and those who don't want us to keep building into the countryside. I think the biggest frustration is when people see the field next to their house disappear. But their children or grandchildren are getting their own homes there. So it's making sure we build the homes that the community needs, not the homes that developers want to build.

PH: We're not just a conveyor belt of building houses. It's about a step change in the quality. We want to protect our villages and make sure the town is successful.

What can this council do differently about the Camrose issue?

GJ: We are both football fans. We love football, and I'd love our town to have a successful football club. Certainly this season they've been pretty successful as they could have been and we want to congratulate them on that. We want that to grow and continue and we want to support that. But what we won't ever do is make promises we can't keep. It's part of being an honest and transparent administration. So we'll meet with them and listen to them. And we'll try and work our way forward. We're absolutely committed to do all we can to help them move forward and get a long-term home of their own and secure the future of football in Basingstoke. But I can't promise that we're going to resolve it as the local authority.

PH: But we recognise what a successful football club brings to our town. The added value, all the work they do with the academy, different community teams – they do a tremendous amount of good work as many sports teams in the borough. We're serious about exploring the options of a multi-use stadium. We want to see that explored and understand the options that could be the future. The past is the past and we can't change that. We look to the future and say actually we're going to work with you as a football club. And we want to be a good partner with you, have a good relationship going forward.

Similarly, can you promise to the people of Basingstoke that Bison will be back in action next season after ice rink renovation?

PH: We're doing everything we can to ensure the future of ice in Basingstoke. And yes, we recognise how important the Bison is. Like the football club, these teams do make a big difference. Because it's part of the town's success to have successful sports teams and we want that.