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A slanging match has developed between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats over Yateley School's playing fields, with both parties accusing each other of electioneering.

A slanging match has developed between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats over Yateley School's playing fields, with both parties accusing each other of electioneering.

Angry Conservatives are accusing Lib Dems of whipping up fear over the possible sale of the playing fields, and they say there are no plans to develop the land. But Lib Dem county councillor Adrian Collett insists that seven acres are threatened and he has seen plans for 99 homes.

Aldershot MP Gerald Howarth has accused local Lib Dems of "disreputable scaremongering" and Hart Coun Mark Fullbrook said the Liberals are engaged in "a cynical attempt... to make people believe that they were saving the school playing fields, when they were never actually at risk."

But Coun Collett claims the land is under threat and said: "The Conservatives have been absolutely silent on the seven acres of playing fields that the county is thinking of disposing of. I think they are now trying to distract attention away from that."

Mr Howarth said that was "absolute rubbish". "Collett did not make a big fuss about this originally. They're trying to scare people into thinking that this land is imminently under threat. They want to present themselves as white knights riding to the rescue of the playing fields; I think people will see through that," he added. "There is no disagreement among people locally. We are all agreed that selling off playing fields is wrong. This is just electioneering."

But Coun Collett hit back, saying: "To pretend that there is no issue is ... disgraceful. The plans were revealed by a governor of one of the three schools back in February and confirmed by officers of the county council when they were challenged.

"I have a copy of the feasibility study carried out by MVA Consultants, dated Oct 2002…It clearly shows an area of 7.21 acres for potential disposal and a layout for 99 houses.

"To state that the county has no plans to sell off playing fields is hiding behind semantics. ..Finding out before it got to the formal decision-making stage has given Yateley the opportunity to engage in the debate before the decision is taken, not when it is too late.

"To sugggest that this is not a real threat is living in cloud cuckoo land. The county does not spend thousands on a development feasibility study just for the sake of it."

Said Mr Howarth: "It is quite clear that as part of their local election strategy the Liberals have been deliberately stoking up fear among residents. It is a pity they did not have the courtesy to discuss the matter with the Head of Yateley School, Will Sarrell, as I have done, or to check the facts, but that would have undermined the case they have been seeking to make.

"As the local Member of Parliament, I have frequently expressed the view that Yateley is already over-developed and that further development could only be justified if residents were satisfied any benefit outweighed the obvious disadvantages."

Coun Fullbrook said he was "saddened" that the Lib Dems "have misled local people in their search for votes." He added that the Conservatives were on record as opposing the destruction of local green fields.

Mr Howarth said that the county had explained to him that they were reviewing all their schools to see if there was any surplus property which could be sold to generate funds for "reinvestment in new education provision."

That review suggested that there could be an area in the southwest corner of Yateley School/Westfields site which could be developed, but a further detailed study would be needed to see if the existing sports pitches "could be reprovided on the site."

Said Mr Howarth: "I have been assured by the leader of the council that there has been no decision to proceed any further, but that if any such decision were taken, full local consultation would be undertaken." He said any sale of land would require the approval not only of the county council, but of the school governors and the Secretary of State.

"Such consultation would involve both the principle of any land sale and also the extent of land that could be released without harming the school's playing fields needs.

"Any sale would require the approval of the Secretary of State for Education, which would not be given unless he was satisfied that the land was genuinely surplus to education needs and that the full proceeds would be reinvested in improved education/recreation facilities."


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