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Christchurch Independents fume over 'betrayal' as Cllr Nigel Brooks switches to ruling Tories on BCP Council

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CHRISTCHURCH Independent councillors have turned on a former colleague and accused him of “betrayal” after he defected to the ruling Conservatives on BCP Council.

Cllr Nigel Brooks was elected to BCP Council in 2019 for the Highcliffe & Walkford ward as an Independent, but has now switched sides and is part of the Tory administration’s cabinet, with a focus on retail strategy and regeneration.

The move has upset Christchurch Independent members, including its leader on BCP Council, Cllr Paul Hilliard, and group chairman Andy Martin.

Nigel Brooks
Nigel Brooks

“The residents of Highcliffe are entitled to feel betrayed by Cllr Brooks,” the pair said. “He stood as an Independent in 2019 with us on a platform that the Conservatives could not be trusted to protect Christchurch. Now he has joined the Tory payroll.

“These are the self-same Conservatives who forced through the creation of BCP Council against the wishes of the people of Christchurch and tried to foist seven years of higher council tax on our residents.

“Cllr Brooks has badly let down Highcliffe in particular and indeed the whole of Christchurch.”

As reported in the A&T, it is not the first time Cllr Brooks has been at odds with Christchurch councillors; in July a secret document he authored which suggested ways in which the town could be developed emerged – sparking fury among local members who said they had not been consulted.

Behind the switch is a complex political background, which stems from the creation of BCP Council. That had been opposed by a number of Christchurch borough councillors – and the Tories among those were kicked out of the party as a result.

Paul Hilliard
Paul Hilliard

Those ejected then became independents and some beat former Conservative colleagues at the first BCP elections to local seats.

Overall, there was no party with a majority on BCP and eventually a Unity Alliance Coalition was formed between the Independents and other parties, including Liberal Democrats.

When that happened Cllr Brooks left the Christchurch Independents group and became a wholly Independent member attributed to no party or group.

That alliance crumbled in 2020 when the Tories forced through a vote of no confidence in the wake of two members dying.

Subsequently, the Tories took control with Cllr Drew Mellor as leader. His ranks have now been swelled with the addition of Cllr Brooks, and three other members – two Independents and a Liberal Democrat.

Andy Martin
Andy Martin

The Tories said Cllr Brooks, a retired chartered surveyor, brought a “wealth of skills in the property sector”.

Cllr Brooks said: “As we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic I feel it is imperative to support the administration by galvanising action in the area of regeneration.

“There are many exciting opportunities across our conurbation, not least with the former Christchurch Council Offices in Bridge Street.”

He did not wish to add anything publicly in response to Christchurch Independents’ criticism.

Cllr Mellor commented: “I’ve always said since becoming leader that I would work with anyone who wanted to work with us.

“With their addition to the team, there is no limit to what we can achieve.”

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