A £300 million project to transform the leisure park into a retail village poses a "significant risk" to the viability of Basingstoke town centre, a group of councillors have said.

Councillors believe that plans to turn the current home of the Aquadrome and ice rink into a retail park "displays a significant planning risk with regards to conflict with the town centre trade".

They added that it could also pose a "commercial/financial risk on the town centre as well".

It was revealed in a public report to the economic, planning and housing (EPH) committee ahead of a private meeting on June 10.

The report went on to say that the council administration "ignored" constructive challenge and failed to fulfill a key principle of good governance in terms of "managing risk and performance through robust internal control and strong public financial management".

They have called for the scrutiny and auditing oversights on the council administration to be strengthened.

But council leader Ken Rhatigan has rebutted the group's finding, saying it is "premature" to say the leisure park redevelopment will impact the town centre.

He added that the authority "probably could" do better in terms of oversight but that it would be "crazy" to scrutinise every decision.

Despite most of the concerns relating to the scrutiny process of the leisure park development in 2015-16, Cllr Paul Harvey, one of the members of the task and finish group and the leader of the Basingstoke and Deane Independent Group, says concerns remain.

"The cabinet at the time didn't pay attention of the concerns being raised and those concerns continue," he told The Gazette.

"Decisions shouldn't be taken by a cabinet member on their own. There [should be] engagement so it isn't left to a single cabinet member.

"We feel [the process] needs to be made stronger so that it is more robust in scrutinising the major projects of our borough, such as the leisure park, Manydown and Basing View.

"There is a real argument to improve the scrutiny process at the council, particularly now we are talking about the town centre strategy as well.

"The desire is that there is more oversight of those projects. We have got to take everybody with us on these projects."

Responding, Cllr Ken Rhatigan, the leader of the council, said: "Better scrutiny of whatever we do is good to the public and also for the council in terms of getting the decisions right."

But when asked by The Gazette whether he would be working with the group to ensure better scrutiny, he said: "Not all decisions, that would be crazy. We can't scrutinise all decisions made, you have to make decisions without the oversight of all of the council, that's why we have a cabinet.

"The reality is, can we do better? Yes we probably could.

"We are not going to look backwards all the time, that is not productive. What is productive is making sure that all group leaders and the public understand what is coming forward at any given time."

When asked about the group's conclusion that the leisure park redevelopment would impact the town centre, he said: "How on earth can they say that if they don't yet know what is going to come out of our town centre strategy?

"Now we have got the consultation back and we have enjoyed all of the benefits of having somebody as expert as that, that would be the time to project whether it is a threat to the town centre."

As previously reported, the council has instructed Wayne Hemmingway to come up with a vision for the future of the town centre after the Covid pandemic, which Cllr Rhatigan expects to see results released to the public from in the "mid-summer".

The redevelopment of the leisure park has been highly controversial for Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council - they were previously taken to court by AEW, the owners of Festival Place, over the procurement process which led to New River becoming the development partner.

The High Court dismissed the claims and a subsequent appeal was thrown out of the Court of Appeal, and a final settlement agreed in June 2020.

The council has adopted a policy ensuring that the construction of "new and improve leisure facilities" at the lesiure park does not cause "significant adverse impact" on Basingstoke town centre or the district centres of the borough.