MP Gerald Howarth has warned that Yateley and other town councils face soaring costs and declining membership as a result of new Whitehall red tape.

"Parish and town councils play an important role in giving a say to local people about local issues across North Hampshire. But they now face being regulated out of existence," he told the Star.

* To obtain extra funding, they will now have to meet centrally set Whitehall targets.

* Large parishes could face new audit and inspection costs of up to £30,000 a year, because of new, so-called "best value" bureaucracy.

* A new code of conduct will force parish councillors to disclose their personal and financial interests, and those of their families and relatives. The introduction of such strict rules may cause some to give up their voluntary work and will discourage others from standing for the position.

"In North Hampshire, parish and town councillors give up their time for the local community. However, I fear these regulations could result in even fewer people willing to become involved. If that were to happen, we might see the Labour Government trying to abolish them all together," concluded Mr Howarth.