An independent district councillor is ‘deeply concerned’ at the deputy leader’s plan to stand in Henfield - almost 13 miles from her Horsham home.
Helena Croft was deselected as candidate by the Horsham Conservative Association for her current ward of Roffey North on Horsham District Council last month.
My main feeling is concern. I feel let down by the Henfield branch of the Conservative association that they have not made it their business to find a candidate from the Henfield wardSheila Matthews, independent councillor for Henfield
In an unprecedented snub, she received just six votes of support out of nearly three dozen, when her fellow Tories chose different representatives.
The decision followed an enormous outcry over massive development plans for North Horsham and concerns about other town centre issues - not least her facelift for West Street at huge expense.
But on Friday, the Arundel and South Downs Conservative Association which represents the southern seats on the district council, chose her to represent them in Henfield.
The association currently has one Tory representing them in Henfield - Brian O’Connell - with the other seat held by the popular independent Sheila Matthews.
Mrs Matthews has announced she will not be restanding this year but told the County Times she was ‘deeply concerned’ about Mrs Croft’s decision to stand in the village.
Mrs Matthews said: “My main feeling is concern. I feel let down by the Henfield branch of the Conservative association that they have not made it their business to find a candidate from the Henfield ward or from the immediate surroundings.”
She said she had ‘lost count’ of the number of messages asking her to reconsider her decision but felt the time was right to stand down after 20 years, and would spend the next few weeks trying to find someone to stand as an independent.
As the village had a long history of returning independents she felt residents would find it ‘completely alien’ to have both their councillors belonging to political parties, and felt it needed someone with deep ties to Henfield.
She added: “I did tell Mrs Croft they will not be pleased to have somebody so remote representing them.”
Meanwhile Frances Haigh, leader of the Lib Dem Group at HDC, expressed ‘surprise’ at the news and said that residents might feel the local Conservatives were ‘taking their votes for granted’.
She added: “Many people in Horsham have been disappointed by councillor Croft’s work on Horsham town centre, especially the uninspiring West Street project, driven through with little heed of local residents’ views. It is to be hoped that, if elected, she will cease to represent Horsham town in the cabinet, as she will have no mandate from the town’s residents.”
Commenting on her selection Mrs Croft said: “I was recently asked by Arundel and South Downs Conservative Association if I would like to consider a vacancy in the ward of Henfield for the May district council elections and I am delighted to have now been adopted as one of their candidates. I would be proud to represent Henfield on the council of Horsham district which has been my home for the last 26 years.
“Having worked extremely hard over the past four years to represent residents at the highest level on the council and with a solid track record of delivering results in my ward, if I am fortunate enough to be elected by the residents of Henfield in May, then I will offer the same level of time, commitment and support, in voicing and delivering on the issues that are important to them.”