HASLEMERE Town Council’s Conservative group has hit back at a “pitiful” attack by independent councillor Nikki Barton (see below) in last week’s Herald – as well as accusing their political rivals of risking opening the floodgates to over-development by taking the town’s Neighbourhood Plan back to the drawing board.

A long-running row over the development of the town plan has become increasingly heated in the lead-up to today’s county council elections.

Last week, Cllr Barton reacted to accusations that she has sought to politicise the plan, accusing the Tories of pitching themselves against the community by opposing revisions to the document since the Conservatives lost control of the town council in 2019.

And in a joint statement, Haslemere’s five-strong Tory group accuse Cllr Barton of only belatedly taking an interest in the plan’s development, some seven years after volunteers formed Haslemere Vision to prepare a neighbourhood plan for the town in 2012.

And rather than promoting protected greenfield sites to be included in Waverley Borough Council’s Local Plan Part Two, as alleged by Cllr Barton, the Tory group states it rather “relied upon the National Plan to protect these sites”.

In contrast, it says revisions to the plan since 2019 have effectively put the town blueprint at odds with national and Waverley planning policy, including ruling out development on sites allocated for housing in LPP2, such as Red Court in Scotland Lane.

This risks “jeopardising the approval of the plan”, which as well as denying the town “considerable financial benefit”, could spell disaster for the town’s green spaces.

The statement adds: “Without a plan we are at risk of overdevelopment throughout the town and we need to ensure that the plan reflects the median wishes of the whole community.”

The full statement reads:

We write with reference to last week’s article featuring Cllr Barton.

Your paper stated Cllr Barton “has launched a scathing attack on Haslemere Town Council’s Conservative opposition group”. While we completely agree this is a scathing (and pitiful) attack, may we point out we are not an opposition group.

We hold the same numbers as the Liberal Democrat group and as town councillors support, not oppose, any project which benefits the town of Haslemere.

We wish to object to Cllr Barton’s comments, accusing former mayors Foster and Lancaster of hypocrisy in supporting an “old guard Conservative council”. These two highly community-minded people have supported Haslemere with dedication and enthusiasm. Cllr Foster was awarded an MBE for services to Haslemere and Cllr Lancaster chaired the Haslemere Design Statement which took many years of determination and has ensured that planning in the area has been held to high standards. They too are founder members of the Haslemere Vision as are the majority of us.

Perhaps (as Cllr Barton states she did) she should not have taken a ringside seat in the Neighbourhood Plan process. She might have raised her concerns. The fact there were two Conservative members on the Neighbourhood Plan committee at the time was because she did not volunteer.

At the end of the last council term, the Neighbourhood Plan was agreed by the Vision and council and ready for consultation. The Vision and the town council of that time did not disregard the public’s view nor push for protected greenfield sites to be included in Waverley Borough Council’s Local Plan Part Two (LPP2), rather they relied upon the National Plan to protect these sites.

Had the new council moved forward as expected by this Vision group, the plan would probably now be adopted with considerable financial benefit for the local community.

Correction must also be made to her statement the new council expanded the working party to councillors from all parties. This is incorrect as no Conservative now serves on that working party.

While it is true some Conservatives have not supported the Neighbourhood Plan in its present state, all Conservative councillors are in favour of a Neighbourhood Plan. Some feel the recent changes to the plan put us in conflict with the national and Waverley plans, thereby jeopardising the approval of the plan.

Without a plan we are at risk of over-development throughout the town and we need to ensure the plan reflects the median wishes of the whole community.

Cllr Barton timed her comments well in the week before the election and it should be noted this statement will be too late for the majority of residents to read before voting.

We do not seek to sway opinion, rather to uphold the integrity of two community-minded people and to set the record straight.

By Conservative Haslemere town councillors Jean Arrick, Peter Isherwood, Brigitte Hewett, Melanie Odell and David Round