CONSERVATIVES have taken control of Hart District Council after gaining the support of an Independent councillor.

The Tories gained two wards from the Liberal Democrats at the local elections on May 1 to take their total number of councillors to 17 - just one short of the 18 required for overall control.

But Councillor Susan Band, an Independent ward member for Hartley Wintney, pledged her support to a Conservative-led administration at the annual meeting of the council.

Last year, the council was run by a coalition of 12 Liberal Democrats, six members of Community Campaign Hart and Cllr Band.

Cllr Band was a Cabinet member with responsibility for housing and health, a portfolio she will continue with under the new administration.

Cllr Band said: "I decided to accept a link with the Conservatives this year because I thought that they would be able to form a stronger Cabinet and, at the local elections, they better represented the will of the people.

"Nobody persuaded me - I do my own thinking. I had to weigh it up very seriously because I respected the previous leadership and Cabinet of last year."

Cllr Ken Crookes, Odiham ward member and Conservative group leader, was elected as leader of the council, replacing Liberal Democrat Cllr David Neighbour, with Cllr Stephen Gorys, also from the Odiham ward, appointed deputy leader.

Cllr Sara Kinnell, Hartley Wintney ward member, became portfolio holder for leisure and recreation in the new administration.

With no district council elections next year, the Conservative-led administration will now have at least two years in power.

Cllr Crookes said he approached Cllr Band and Cllr Denis Gotel, the two Independent councillors on Hart District Council, for their support, after he was unanimously re-elected as group leader by his fellow Conservatives at a meeting in the Cross Barn, Odiham, on May 3.

He told The Gazette: "We think we have a mandate because 60 per cent of people at the elections voted Conservative. Our major focus will be on delivering real value for money for the residents of Hart.

"We will be looking long and hard at council services, such as waste collection, to see what it costs us to run them."

Cllr Crookes also said the Cabinet would aim to resolve the problem of public toilets in Odiham, which have remained closed since November, after vandals ripped pipes from the walls.

Cllr Neighbour, Liberal Democrat group leader, said: "I thought Susan Band did a good job in housing for our administration.

"I'm a little surprised, but she got on with all sides of the council. Obviously she feels more secure with the Conservatives."

He said he had wanted to form a broad coalition including Conservatives, but it had not been possible.