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Saving our forests is seeing the wood for the trees

Thank you for your 40-year fight for bridleway

40-year fight for bridleway

Maureen Comber thrown out of Tory Party and branded a trouble-maker
because of her 40-year fight
to get her local Council to fulfil their statutory duty and repair a bridlepath

"If you do vote to terminate my membership, while David Cameron is talking about localism and the Big Society, you will be making me a martyr and putting me alongside the likes of Jeffery Archer, Jonathan Aitken and David Mellor who did more harm to the Tory Party than fight for a bridlepath."

Read in full Maureen's Statement to the
East Hampshire Conservative Association, which she made on Friday 25th March 2011

Mr Chairman, Councillors, Members

I have to say that it is lamentable that the perpetrators of this Motion choose to hide behind a cloak of anonymity, while Eric Pickles is forcefully directing local councils to be much more transparent and open.

To start with let me make two general comments about the Motion to terminate my membership of the Conservative Party.

FIRST. The Government and the country are wrestling with the greatest economic crisis we have faced in a generation.

The East Hampshire  Conservative Association , however, only want to talk about a handful of emails I have sent , quote, “on a very wide distribution” end quote, in an effort to postpone, not prevent, the opening of a cyclepath to be known as the Shipwrights’ Way.

SECOND. Other members of the Tory Party have committed far, far greater crimes than trying to postpone the opening of a cyclepath that have brought the Party, quote “into disrepute” end quote, and there have been no moves, either at national or local level, to terminate their membership.

Now to the details.

The motion accuses me of quote, “repeatedly sending emails on a very wide distribution, including members of the Liberal Democrat Party, in an effort to postpone the launch of the Shipwrights’ Way on 12th March 2011.”

I have sent exactly 13 emails over a five day period.

With the best will in the world, this can hardly be described as “repeatedly”

The motion goes on: quote “to a very wide distribution.”

I have sent e-mails to no less than 95 people

Of them half were members of the Tory Party

Out of a total Tory Party membership of approx 1,063..members that is no-way saturation coverage.

The motion says I even sent emails to members of the Liberal Democrat Party.

I don’t honestly see how I could not send emails to interested, local members of the Liberal Democrats; but actually for the most part I do not know what political inclinations my correspondents have.

What’s more, as far as I am aware, there has never been any direction that Tory members of the Council should not send emails to Liberal Democrats. How could the Coalition Government work if that were the case?

The motion says the Shipwrights Way is, I quote, “a cornerstone of Conservative policy at both East Hampshire District Council and Hampshire County Council as agreed by both Conservative Groups of Councillors.”

A cornerstone is a foundation stone or an indispensible part or basis of something.

The Shipwrights Way has never been presented to me as a cornerstone policy before. If it is, what is the policy that it is a cornerstone of? In addition, if it is a cornerstone then it should represent the expected quality of all that will follow.

The failure to address the discriminatory practice by the Forestry Commission of requiring horse riders to buy a permit in order just to access this Public Forest Estate, will not be seen as a benefit to the community as a whole. Horse riders, the most vulnerable of all un-motorised users, are forced to use the surrounding busy roads and lanes if they don’t have a permit. Even if one is purchased, that does not entitle anyone to a safe or tranquil experience. The Forestry Commission has manufactured ‘cycle only’ routes but there are no bridleways.

I do not deny that I am a member of the British Horse Society. It is not against any law to be a member of the British Horse Society; whose patron, I might add, is Her Majesty the Queen. As the District Access Bridleways Officer for North East Hampshire it would be expected that I would contact everybody I could with an interest in acquiring safer and more off road riding for horse owners.

I do not deny that I want the Shipwright’s Way to be suitable for horse-riders and for all other forms of “green” transport, because if EHDC is to contribute its section106 developer contributions pot of £375,000 to what is primarily a recreational project, then it should be for the benefit of all non-motorised users and not a single category of user such as cyclists. Also the use should be secured by statute. Bridleways are best value in this respect because all non-motorised users may access them and they are to be found on the Definitive Map of Rights of Way.

Saddest of all is the way that I, as adjoining Ward and Ward Cllr for this initial section, have been deliberately bypassed and not allowed to even listen to, let alone contribute to the Steering Committee set up to deliver this project, even though I have 40 years experience in the field of Rights of Way and have repeatedly offered to assist. Furthermore as adjoining landowners to part of the route alongside Cradle Lane, we have generously made available some of our land to enable better drainage works to be put in place.

Unable to get answers to some pressing questions from the Project Officer or Steering Group, I sought help from the CEO of EHDC who passed my concerns to the Executive Head for Communities and Economy. Since I was very unhappy with several things and had not received a copy of the detailed route which I had asked for, I requested the Project to be called in to Overview and Scrutiny. The Executive Head also set up the meeting with the Leader, Cllr Burridge earlier this month on 3rd March. I explained that I had just received an invitation to the opening of the Shipwrights Way which had come suddenly and unexpectedly. No discussions had taken place with me as promised. ;I asked that the opening of The Shipwrights Way be delayed until my concerns had been addressed. What could possibly be gained by rushing it through especially as the expected delivery time for the proposal was at least two years hence.?

I am accused that in one single email dated 7th March that I stated my declared intention of going public with my concerns about the Shipwrights Way being suitable for horse-riders, in the national and local press and the World Wide Web.

I do not deny it. I had to say something to try and save the Party from the inevitable embarrassment which would follow such an untimely event as opening a permissive path rather than statutory on the Public Forest Estate, when only a week before the Minister of the Environment Caroline Spelman said : quote

"In fact, we are proposing to end the last Government's policy of selling land and replace it with a leasing policy, specifically to secure access to rights for all - including horse riders, cyclists and other recreational users." end quote.

However that begs the question. Since when has it been wrong for a Tory councillor, a Tory MP, a Tory MEP or even a Tory Minister to fight for what they believe in?

If Tory councillors are not prepared to fight for what they believe in, they shouldn’t be Tory councillors.

The motion also says that, and I quote, “Mrs. Comber is giving the Liberal Democrat opposition the opportunity to bring down scorn upon all Conservative candidates at this election.”

I would suggest that you will be giving the Liberal Democrat opposition even more opportunity to bring down scorn upon all Conservative candidates at the election if you vote this evening to terminate my membership of the Tory Party

Because you will be giving them the opportunity to say

  1. That while the Tory-led Coalition Government was wrestling with the greatest economic crisis this country has ever faced; here in East Hampshire the Tories were only interested in arguing about a cyclepath.
  2. That while the Tory Government was fighting to encourage the growth of democracy all over the world, here in East Hampshire the Tories were fighting to stamp out any form of local democracy
  3. That a single local councillor was not allowed to represent the views of the largest equine charity in the country if not the World, whose Patron is Her Majesty The Queen
  4. That while other Tory councillors, Tory MPs, Tory MEPs and Tory Ministers are allowed to fight as long and as hard for what they believe in, here in East Hampshire a single local councillor was not allowed to fight for what she believes in.
  5. That a single local councillor was not allowed to send emails to just 95 people including members of the Liberal Democrat Party.

I sincerely hope that, from your point of view, you do not this evening vote to terminate my membership of the Tory Party

  1. Because if you do vote to terminate my membership, while David Cameron is talking about localism and the Big Society, you will be making me a martyr and putting me alongside the likes of Jeffery Archer, Jonathan Aitken and David Mellor who did more harm to the Tory Party than fight for a bridlepath.
  2. Because if you do vote to terminate my membership, you will be attracting far more publicity than if you let the matter rest
  3. Because if you do vote to terminate my membership, you will be giving the Liberal Democrat opposition even more opportunity to bring down scorn upon all Conservative candidates at the election.

Perhaps you should rather be asking why it is the Officers of this Association are putting the Party in such a difficult position just weeks before the local elections.

Finally, I leave you with one of my favourite quotes from Mrs Thatcher, she said “Speaking out for what you believe in is as necessary for good politics as loyalty.”

I Thank you for listening.

Do you think the Tory Party should have thrown Maureen out of the Party?

Vote Yes - Vote No

E-mail us. Tell us what you think.

On Friday March 25 the Conservative Party are planning to say thank you a 73-year-old mother of two, grand-mother of seven, who has just won an unbelievable non-stop 40-year fight to persuade her local Council to carry out their statutory duty and repair a mere 250-yard stretch of bridleway – by kicking her out of the Party for being a troublemaker.

But after hundreds of meetings, thousands of letters and e-mails, 12 local Council elections, three changes of Members of Parliament and no end of firm promises of action, the fight goes on.

For Maureen, who even became a local Councillor to help fight her campaign, has just been told by East Hampshire District Council that even though the newly-repaired Cradle Lane has been officially opened for walkers and cyclists still, even after 40-years, no date has been set for it to re-open to riders.

40-year fight for bridleway

Says Maureen, who has kept all the notes and letters and files of her struggle against the bureaucrats, "This clearly illustrates how local people are still being steamrollered by large bureaucracies against the very best intentions of the coalition government."


It is probably the longest, most courageous fight against a local authority ever undertaken on behalf of the equestrian community in this country.


THE MOTION TO TERMINATE MAUREEN COMBER'S MEMBERSHIP OF THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY in accordance with paragraph 3.5 of the Rules of the East Hampshire Conservative Association will be debated


Tributes to Maureen Comber

Click here to read Maureen's Biography

Says Sharon Holt
"Just typical........people in authority not listening to us horsey folk. Let them ride on the road and risk their lives everyday and see how quick they respond then!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! "

Says Quita
What prats! Indeed, the matter will no doubt blow into a far bigger thing now, eh? Good luck!

Says Barbara Clarke, a colleague of Maureen’s
on British Horse Society Access Committee

The Conservative Party could do with more people who are the sort of troublemakers like Maureen who works very hard on behalf of all horse lovers and other country lovers. Please do not undermine the efforts of those who work, largely as volunteers to make this country worth living in.

Says Bob
Speaking as someone who was finally - and painfully - ‘Blaired’ from my long clung-to Labour Party roots before being ‘Clegged’ from more recent ‘Lib-Dem’ leanings, I cannot but sympathise with what appears to be the far more personalised and cruel treatment you’ve received from your Tory “comrades”.

What I especially cannot get over is that they’ve chosen this of all matters about which to ‘punish’ you…

Dear God, what – compared with you - do any of these people know about horsey matters? Let alone the fact that none of them, as far as I can see, has any record whatsoever of defending the purpose and values of bridle paths!

As for targeting their own feet….? I just hope and pray that they may cop the sort of media backlash their stupidity warrants….?

What you’ve done and said has been “Right”: what they’ve said has been “Wrong.”

Take a good, well-earned rest ….. and let them pay the consequences!

Very best wishes

Says Peter
I was sorry to read of the outcome.. You put up a good fight.

It is sad that the current decision making arrangements in Local Government has encouraged a bullying style in those elected as leaders and executive members. As a result any words that are considered at variance with those of the power base causes a negative reaction.In the absence of full scrutiny by committee (protected by protocol) review/examination is not possible.

I still expect a major breakdown/abuse of the current arrangements and I am only surprised that one has not occurred. Underperformance and bad decision making are masked as result.

Best wishes

Says Mary
I am so sorry. I hope that the meeting was not too stressful. Thank you very much for all you have done for us over the last four years. It has been much appreciated.

Very best wishes

Says Roy
In am sorry to have received the news that you lost the motion at tonight's meeting and wish to thank you for all that you have done on behalf of the community since you were elected.

I feel that you have been unfairly treated; the punishment does not fit the crime.

Perhaps you were in a hole following previous encounters and kept on digging when you should have paused for thought. That let the cabal of enemies develop and you were completely out-gunned.

With all best wishes for the future.

I pine for a more sensible approach to saving our forests

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