Council rocked as Tories quit

Monday 27th March 2017 1:11 am
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three members of Haslemere Town Council have resigned, protesting the “gilded chamber at the top of the High Street” was “too political”.

Haslemere South ward members Simon Drake and Peter Sherratt and Hindhead ward member Richard Newbury, were part of a ‘new wave’ of councillors elected in May 2015, but cracks in the all-Tory membership began to show in 2016.

Their shock move to quit came last Thursday.

Last year, Mr Drake switched allegiance to become an independent Conservative, saying he found “the harassment of local Conservative officers” made it impossible for him to represent the best interests of residents.

Mr Drake, who manages the Blue Boar Bar in Westminster, a popular hub for MPs, protested at the time he had joined the town council believing it should not be political – but had found members were subjected to outside pressure from the Conservative Party.

The three councillors, who resigned with immediate effect, penned a letter of protest to The Herald this week and urged that holding a by-election to fill their seats was the only way to prevent “the old guard from co-opting on more cronies such as themselves to fill our seats”.

A by-election will be triggered if 10 residents of each ward affected writes to Waverley’s monitoring officer to request one is held.

The ‘gang of three’ objected that Haslemere North ward member David Round, who was elected chairman of the Haslemere branch of South West Surrey Conservative Association, had been proposed as deputy mayor for 2017/18, even though he now lives in Liphook.

The town council said it was not against regulations to serve as deputy mayor and subsequently mayor if a councillor was a near neighbour rather than a Haslemere resident.

The council also said it was not a “done deal” and it was still possible to nominate other councillors as well as Mr Round to become deputy mayor, as the final decision will be taken at the mayor-making meeting on Thursday, May 18.

“We have always stated our little parish council of Haslemere should be relatively non-political and should be a group of like-minded but widely skilled individuals, who look to enhance our community,” the three councillors wrote.

“Frustratingly the continual pressure from masters behind the scenes has been obvious and alarming at times.

“Indeed our decision was confirmed in concrete after having been informed of the pre-decided leadership roles for the next term. This is a problem of ethics and morals. We find it alarming that the incoming deputy mayor will most likely be called upon to preside over matters of importance relating to the expenditure of townsfolk’s council tax, while not even being a Haslemere resident, or indeed contributing to said finances.

Responding on behalf of the town council (see letters page) Mayor Sahran Abeysundara said: “Sadly they did not feel able discuss their reasons with the council prior to taking this course of action. Had they been able to do so, a now imminent and costly by-election, which will ultimately be funded by those who placed their trust in them when they voted them in two years ago, could have been avoided.

“That aside, this is a rare and excellent opportunity to fill the vacancies, with local residents who do have the time and inclination to actually work hard and be present for their ward, residents, council meetings and important civic and community events. We would greatly encourage interested people, who want to proudly serve and encourage their community to continue to flourish, to stand for election in the forthcoming by-election.

“The town council has achieved much during the two years of this term and will continue to work to support the people of Haslemere.”

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