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Tory group leader comes under fire over claims of a deeply divided party
A CONSERVATIVE borough councillor has said the ruling Tory group is “massively divided” – and he claims its leader “needs to get a grip”.
Tadley Central ward member Stephen West claims the ruling administration, which has a wafer-thin majority, is in danger of collapsing over deeply-held divisions about future council policy.
However, Conservative group and council leader Cllr Clive Sanders has rejected the criticism, and he has said Cllr West’s absence from the area for the last two months means he “may not be completely up to speed with everything that is happening.”
Cllr West told The Gazette : “Cllr Sanders has just a short time to get a grip, not just of the council’s strategy, but of his Cabinet.
“I recall the endless Conservative group meetings that I have sat in where many of us were urged to ‘pull together’ amidst thinly-veiled threats of being demoted or ostracised.”
The outspoken claims come in the same month that crucial decisions on the borough’s Core Strategy – a blueprint of future housing development for the next 15 years – are set to take place.
Last year, the Conservative-led blueprint was scrapped after it was labelled “irrational” and “unlawful” by a High Court judge after the council-owned Manydown land was excluded from the debate over future housing sites.
And in May this year, internal divisions over the Core Strategy, and the Conservatives refusal to include land at Manydown for housing, prompted Old Basing councillor Onnalee Cubitt to quit the party and become an independent. Her decision reduced the Conservatives’ grip on power to one.
Cllr West claimed that Conservative members are being increasingly forced to “toe the party line” during closed-door group meetings, and are unable to air their concerns.
He said: “The party is massively divided. We have a group of 30, and 10 are in the Cabinet. They make the decisions and we are expected to follow.”
Speaking to The Gazette, Cllr Sanders said: “Cllr West has been away for the last two months helping with the Olympics so may not be completely up to speed with everything that is happening.
“Far from being on hold, work is advancing rapidly on developing a revised Local Plan and on developing plans for the future of Manydown, both starting their way through committee now and due for consultation in the next few months.”
Cllr Sanders added: “We are determined to ensure that the borough is open for new exciting opportunities. This clearly demonstrates that we have a very firm grip on the borough’s priorities, taking positive actions and involving as many people as possible in take them forward.”
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