PLANS to create a new health centre and church in Basingstoke have moved a step closer after council chiefs backed the idea.

Their support for the new South Ham doctor’s surgery, dental practice and pharmacy came despite opposition from Hatch Warren councillors, who are upset the new health centre would replace two existing doctors’ surgeries – one in South Ham and another in Hatch Warren.

The congregation at St Andrew’s Methodist Church, in Western Way, South Ham, has offered to hand the council part of its existing church site to house the new health centre in return for a nominal fee and a new church and hall.

Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council needs to invest £3.2million to make the plan a reality, although this would be recovered by leasing out the health centre building to the medical practices.

The council’s Cabinet has now recommended that the full council supports the plan when it meets tonight.

Councillor James Lewin, Cabinet member for finance, property and performance, said: “It [the proposal] has overwhelming merits in terms of patient services, although I fully understand there are some who would be negatively affected.”

He was satisfied that Dr Hudson and Partners, which runs the two existing surgeries in Paddock Road, South Ham, and Morehams Avenue, Hatch Warren, was taking steps to ease any problems created for Hatch Warren residents.

Dr Nick Western, from the South Ham surgery, pleaded for councillors to back the scheme. “Our premises in South Ham are not only old but decrepit and unfit for use,” he said.

The Reverend Margaret Locke-Wheaton, minister at St Andrews Church, said the church planned to open its doors to offer hospitality to those attending the surgery.

She added: “The congregation are excited by the proposal and are keen for the scheme to go ahead.”

South Ham councillors Sean Keating and Gerry Traynor also backed the proposal, but there was opposition from Hatch Warren councillors Dan Putty and Phil Heath.

Cllr Putty said he understood why the Conservative administration backed the idea, but he was concerned about the impact on his ward residents and called for the doctors to keep some basic servi-ces in Hatch Warren. He said: “I would like to see it retained and used as a satellite of the new surgery.”

Cllr Heath complained the council had failed to consult with residents over a major expenditure decision and the only consultation would be with South Ham residents when the planning application was submitted.