It’s safe to say that a lot has happened in Basingstoke and Deane over the past 12 months.
From big political comings and goings to plans to dramatically improve the area through new houses, better emergency services and bigger business, the borough has most certainly taken several steps forward in 2015.
Here are some of our highlights from the year.
– Christian Wilson, reporter at the Basingstoke Observer
From giant fire-breathing birds to dancing skeletons parading the streets, Basingstoke has covered pretty much everything in its busy events schedule this year.
The highlight of the year was undoubtedly the spectacular 24 days of entertainment provided as part of the Basingstoke Festival across June and July.
Over 100 different live acts performed at a range of events after the programme was launched by a mechanical disco turtle, before rock group Mungo Jerry closed the festivities at music festival Basingstoke Live.
Since then, the Top of Town has celebrated an alternative to Halloween through the Mexican Day of the Dead, while also being turned into a winter wonderland ahead of Christmas.
Add to that the numerous charity events that have taken place in Basingstoke, such as the Basingstoke Half Marathon and the Race for Life, and it’s safe to say it’s not been quiet this year.
Following government planning inspector Mike Fox’s insistence that more than 100 new homes would have to be built each year than previously expected in the borough, housing was always going to be a key issue in 2015.
The borough council spent all year outlining possible sites on which to build 853 homes annually until 2029 as part of its draft local plan.
A five-week public examination into the authority’s findings was conducted in October, with a decision on whether to extend this figure further still expected in March next year.
The council’s development control committee has adopted a more important role than ever in the past 12 months, with one member claiming that the borough had “lost the plot” over housing.
Arguably the biggest housing decision occurred in February when 600 additional homes were earmarked for the 2,000-acre council-owned land at Manydown – bringing the total number for the project up to 4,000.
Plans to build 750 houses at Hounsome Fields on land opposite Basingstoke Golf Club were also included in the council’s draft local plan for the inspector’s consideration.
Elsewhere, proposals to build 130 houses next to Chineham Business Park in Crockford Lane were granted planning permission, while the decision to build 30 homes at Hurstbourne Station in Whitchurch played a part in Cllr Eric Dunlop’s resignation from the Liberal Democrats.
Applications for different developments were also submitted from all over the borough.
A total of 200 houses are being proposed for land west of Kingsclere Road in Overton, with 100 more being considered between Micheldever Road and Winchester Road in Whitchurch.
Detailed plans were also submitted for a 578-home development in Chapel Hill.
Basingstoke and Deane once again showed its generous side this year as residents from all over the borough came up with a range of unique fundraising challenges for charity.
Riverdene adventurer James Ketchell grabbed the headlines once again in 2015 as he attempted to row the Indian Ocean in world record time.
The man known as Captain Ketch was joined on his adventure by epilepsy sufferer Ashley Wilson, but after long delays the pair were forced to abandon their challenge just six days in.
Another person to grab the hearts of the public was Spiderdad.
Real name Mike Wilson, the Beggarwood freerunner raised £37,000 for children’s hospice Naomi House by starring in an action movie and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in memory of five-year-old son Jayden, who passed away from a brain tumour on Christmas Eve 2014.
Schwartz-Jampel syndrome sufferer Owen Howkins completed his first ever marathon.
The 10-year-old was pushed around the Lisbon Marathon course in a sports wheelchair by stepmum Colleen Drummond for charity Make a Wish Portugal.
Old Basing’s William Green fulfilled a lifelong dream by sailing 5,600 miles across the Atlantic Ocean from London to Brazil as part of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race – raising over £10,000 in the process.
And Tadley cousins Sam Jenkins and Charlie Saunders raised more than £4,500 for The Brain Tumour Charity after jumping out of a plane from 15,000ft in the sky.
It was a year of significant change for all of the emergency services representing the borough.
Arguably one of the biggest stories of the year revolved around Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s (HHFT) plans to build a critical care unit on land north of junction seven of the M3, near North Waltham.
The proposal to build the £160m hospital hit a massive setback in September, after both the North and West Hampshire Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) blocked the plans due to concerns over costs.
Despite the CCGs’ intervention, the borough council then granted the plans full planning permission just a few weeks later, although work cannot yet go ahead until a further period of public consultation has taken place.
Plans for the future of Hampshire’s police service also took their first steps this year, as the force braced itself for further government cuts.
While this never in fact came to fruition following chancellor George Osborne’s dramatic U-turn on police funding in his Autumn statement in November, Hampshire Constabulary nevertheless furthered plans to become more cost efficient.
Chief to this was the creation of a £10m state-of-the-art 24-hour Police Investigation Centre (PIC) in the Viables in Basingstoke – with construction work on the new build officially commencing in October.
Other cost-cutting moves by Hampshire’s police and crime commissioner Simon Hayes saw 100 members of staff move into Hampshire Fire and Rescue’s Eastleigh headquarters in November in a bid to save both services £1m a year.
Big changes are also in the pipeline with the fire service, which launched a public consultation on plans to save the service £12.2m in September.
Basingstoke fire station is among those set to be most affected by the cutbacks.
With it being election year, there was always going to be some big political stories to come out of 2015 – and there was plenty going on.
It’s pretty safe to say that the Conservatives came out on top in Basingstoke and Deane over the past 12 months.
Following a difficult 2014 littered with resignations and expenses allegations, MP Maria Miller had a much better time of things – seeing off her rival MP candidates by more than 11,000 votes to comfortably secure the Basingstoke seat in May’s general elections.
And this dominance was mirrored in the borough council vote, where the Tories claimed 16 of the 21 spots on offer to ensure they now boast over half of the councillors at the authority.
While the Conservatives most certainly turned Basingstoke blue on May 7, there were a number of other big political stories throughout the year – with a number bordering on bizarre.
One of the stranger stories of the year saw Ukip MP candidate Alan Stone hand his son – councillor for Brighton Hill South Matt Ellery – to police in February.
Mr Stone alleged that his son had stolen valuables from his antiques shop, with Cllr Ellery claiming that his father had made the charges – which were eventually dropped over lack of evidence – public with political motives in mind.
Fellow MP candidate Dr Omar Selim also made the Observer headlines in July after claiming that the Basingstoke vote had been “fixed”.
The independent candidate claimed just 392 votes from the ballot, with Dr Selim launching an online petition to have the election re-run following claims that his name had “not appeared on the ballot paper” on several occasions.
Arguably the most disturbing political story to come out of the borough in 2015 surfaced the week before the elections as Ukip MP candidate for North East Hampshire Robert Blay was caught on camera threatening Tory rival Ranil Jayawardena.
Blay was secretly filmed by the Daily Mirror saying that he would “put a bullet between the eyes” of the then borough council deputy leader if he ever went on to become Prime Minister.
Another story to gain national interest saw Green Party members Clare Phipps and Sarah Cope prevented from standing as job-share MPs for the Basingstoke seat, with their legal challenge to the ruling then refused by the High Court in July.
Figures released in October showed an 18 per cent rise in crime in Hampshire last year – a bigger increase than any other area in the country.
And Basingstoke and Deane was not immune from its fair share of crime stories throughout the year.
Stuart Hodgkin, originally from Basingstoke, will go on trial at Exeter Crown Court next year after being arrested for the murder of Adrian Munday in Devon in October.
Elsewhere, lorry driver Piotr Janowski was jailed for five years in July after being found guilty of causing the death of Simon Shore from Swindon at a dual carriageway near Whitchurch.
Mr Shore was killed in January after colliding into Janowski’s HGV as he attempted a dangerous U-turn on an unlit stretch of the A34 northbound carriageway near the Tufton crossroads.
Another crime to take place on the roads surrounding the borough was punished this year, following an assault on Hampshire Constabulary officer PC Vikki Sharpe at the side of the M3 near Basingstoke
Guilty party Innocent Fowung caused injuries to PC Sharpe’s ribs, hand, back and shoulder during a 15-minute sustained attack after being pulled over for driving erratically while intoxicated.
Fowung was handed consecutive sentences of 12 months and 10 months for assaulting an officer, dangerous driving and for being over the limit.
Body Worn Video (BWV) was used as evidence as Craig Radbourne (pictured left) was sentenced to three years behind bars for assaulting Sgt Kerry Lawrence in February in Basingstoke.
The camera caught Radbourne, of Buckinghamshire, banging Sgt Lawrence’s head against the floor shortly after she had arrested him, before then escaping.
Former Basingstoke teacher Lloyd Dennis (pictured right) grabbed the headlines with one of the most shocking stories of the year after being found guilty of 20 different sexual offences against two brothers, aged 12 and 14.
Dennis was sentenced to a total of 15 years in jail for his crimes – which included two counts of rape – in November.
Seven people were also sentenced to a combined total of 31 years for their part in selling Class A drugs on the streets of Basingstoke.
Nathan Mullings, Paul Liddle, Joshua Taylor, Ciaran Boyle, Luke Woolford, Solomon Bramble and Joel Elie were all sentenced at Winchester Crown Court in August.