The council’s leader has defended his axed deputy - praising her work to ‘produce the very best for Horsham town’.
Horsham District Council deputy leader and cabinet member Helena Croft (Roffey North) and fellow Tory councillor Jim Rae (Holbrook East) were both dumped by the Horsham Conservative Association by a ‘wide margin’ as it chose its candidates for the upcoming district council elections in May.
While Mrs Croft said she was ‘clearly disappointed’ by the decision, Mr Rae has resigned from the Conservative Party and become an independent in protest at being ‘shafted by the Conservatives at the national and local level’.
Reacting to the news, Ray Dawe (Chantry), leader of HDC, expressed ‘disappointment’ that two sitting councillors had been deselected and praised them both as ‘extremely hard working’.
Mr Dawe is a member of the Arundel and South Downs Conservative Association, while Mrs Croft and Mr Rae have been members of the Horsham Conservative Association.
Mr Dawe said he hoped that Mrs Croft ‘will soon return to an elected position for the Conservative Party’ and added: “I shall greatly miss her support and think the council will be a poorer place without her.”
The revelations, reported exclusively on the County Times website, sparked extensive comment from the public.
One wrote on the County Times website: “Wonderful news. Two of the worst councillors have been removed and rightly so for completely selling their constituents down the river where the North Horsham debacle is concerned by going entirely against what those that voted them in wanted.”
Roger Arthur, a UKIP district councillor and a General Election candidate for Horsham, added: “They followed the party line on the North Horsham development, against the aspirations of many constituents.
“They have now paid a price for that, albeit at the hands of their colleagues.
“Perhaps the ruling group will now also dispense with the whip and cabinet system and sign the County Times Free Speech Charter.”
But Mr Dawe defended the pair’s recent stance on the proposals for 2,500 homes and a new business park north of the A264 as a ‘brave, honest and realistic view of the situation’.
In a statement to the County Times Mr Dawe said: “From my perspective, as the leader of Horsham District Council, I am disappointed that two of our sitting councillors, Jim Rae and Helena Croft, have not been selected by their local Conservative association to put themselves before the electorate in this coming May’s election.
“Both councillors have been extremely hard working on behalf of their constituents and in a period when the council has been faced with some of the most difficult decisions in its history, they have played an enormously constructive part.
“Cllr Helena Croft was elected without challenge as the deputy leader of the district council some two years ago and she has done the job admirably and been a huge support to me as the council Leader.
“She has worked particularly hard to produce the very best for Horsham town, which has been one of her cabinet areas of responsibility.
“As a councillor for a part of the district most affected by the government requirement for a twenty year housing plan, she has had to steer a difficult course.
“She took the view that most of the plan was inevitable, especially since the sites in it were agreed for development in 2009 before she joined the council, so she should try to extract the maximum benefits for the community, and this remains for me the most credible option she could have taken. I shall greatly miss her support and think the council will be a poorer place without her. Cllr Jim Rae took a very similar view. “While this may not have been a view that ultimately won them support from the members of the Horsham Conservative Association, I believe it was a brave, honest and realistic view of the situation.
“I believe that the people of Horsham district have been very well served by this Conservative run administration and both these members have been part of that. I note that Jim Rae has decided to leave the Conservative group and I think this a pity. I truly hope that Helena will soon return to an elected position for the Conservative party. In the meantime, she remains the elected deputy leader of the council until May.”
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