AN explosive political row has erupted over Waverley's recycling scheme following a warning that unless there was total cross-party support, it would fail.

The warning came after the leader of the Tory controlled Waverley Council, David Harmer lashed out at "damaging" comments made about the scheme in a recent edition of a Liberal Democrat newspaper.

He refered to remarks ridiculing the Conservatives' recycling policy for charging for the collection of garden and other compostable waste made by Farnham Lib Dem Dr Rosemary Thomas.

She called it a "con" and said she was against Waverley proposals to charge 65p each for garden rubbish sacks.

Mr Harmer declared that the Lib Dems "must give their public support" to enable the Conservative recycling policies to succeed.

Without it he warned, the scheme to reduce waste in the borough would fail and the council could be subjected to hefty fines and stiff penalties imposed by the government.

The recycling and waste management project is part of a government initiative which rules the council must meet statutory recycling targets to increase its recycling rate to 36 per cent by 2005.

At the meeting of Tuesday night's Waverley executive committee meeting Mr Harmer took issue with comments made by Dr Rosemary Thomas in the newspaper.

"I would like to know how Dr Thomas expects residents in her ward to support the scheme if their representative is criticising it public. Unfortunately our refuse collection routes do not recognise political boundaries," said Mr Harmer.

Defending her party's position, Dr Thomas hit back, saying her comments had been made "some time ago", and the special-interest group responsible for looking into the recycling scheme, of which she is a member, had already voted to recommend charging for the garden refuse sacks.

But an angry Mr Harmer would not let the matter rest. He retorted: "If I was a normal elector on the streets I would not have seen any information which says anything other than you do not agree with the proposals."

By way of a peace offering, Dr Thomas responded that she would be willing to meet Mr Harmer and Waverley's Lib Dem leader Chris Slyfield to discuss a way around the issue.

Mr Harmer replied that it would "not be necessary" and invited Mr Slyfield to tell the meeting his views on the situation.

Mr Slyfield backed his fellow party member and told Mr Harmer that he was "pushing Dr Thomas too hard".

"We support the recycling scheme but we are not going to come out and wholeheartedly give our public support to Conservative policies," Mr Slyfield announced.

Pressing the Lib Dems even further, Mr Harmer then asked if the party would be voting in favour of the recycling scheme at the next meeting of the full council in July.

"Cross-party support," said Mr Harmer, "is absolutely necessary if we are going to persuade the public to get involved in recycling."

But refusing to be put on the spot, Mr Slyfield responded: "We would not expect your party to give us the answers you are expecting us to give to you now."

With politics now well and truly at the fore of the debate, Mr Harmer claimed that he wanted Waverley to be an "open" council and said this was one of the matters which required this arrangement.

He went on to concede that the proposal to charge for sacks for garden rubbish could be dropped from the list of recommendations for the scheme, and that money could be put into providing the public with information, advice, and guidance about recycling.

In an unusual twist of events, Conservative councillor for Bramley Richard Gates told Mr Harmer that he thought he had been "slightly too harsh" with the Lib Dems in asking them to publicly agree with Tory policies.

After further debate, the committee agreed that proposals toimplement the recycling scheme effectively should be taken to the next full council on July 23 where a final vote will be taken.

The proposal to charge residents for sacks for garden rubbish will be reviewed again by Waverley officers and brought back to the executive committee for further discussion at its next meeting on July 9.