MALVERN’S council leader has admitted she is “surprised” Conservative councillors voted against the district’s plans for the next five years.

Cllr Sarah Rouse, leader of Malvern Hills District Council, was speaking after its Executive Committee meeting, in which Conservative councillors including leader Jeremy Owenson and former council leader David Chambers voted against the new five-year plan.

The plan, which includes working with housing providers to add extra affordable housing for the town and planting a new forest to be dedicated to victims of coronavirus, was objected to on the basis of the spending required to implement it.

Cllr Rouse said she was surprised there were objections, saying: "Recovery from the covid 19 pandemic when it is eventually over will be the absolute priority for this council.

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"The revised five year plan reflects this and sets out how we will work with partners to support our economy, communities and all residents to come back stronger than before whilst still maintaining our commitment to our environment.

"For this reason I was very surprised that the Conservative group voted against it.

"The group leader Cllr Owenson said it was specifically as he did not support our plans to work with community land trusts to build high quality affordable homes nor did he support our commitment to plant trees.

"This included our plans to work with volunteers to create a commemorative woodland to thank and remember those who have gone above and beyond in the covid crisis.

"Both commitments deliver not only for residents but meet Government policies.

"Hopefully they may rethink this going forward and work with all councillors to deliver our priorities."

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At the meeting, held virtually on January 19, Cllr Owenson said he could not support the plan, saying: "As a general comment, there are a lot of new things in this plan and I’m not seeing an awful lot around how we are going to raise revenue to meet those requirements.

"I am a little bit nervous we could be going back to the old days of ‘spend, spend, spend’ and will end up with reserves like we had seven or eight years ago."

Cllr Owenson also questioned the provision of affordable housing and whether this would be instead of or in addition to what is promised in the South Worcestershire Development plan, which will see thousands of new homes built across the Malvern Hills area by 2041.

Another of the objections was in relation to enquiring about new land for the proposed forest.

With the council already having bought 45 acres of land in Hallow for carbon capture, Cllr Owenson questioned whether the council had a plan for what they intended to do with this land before purchasing any more in the future.

Despite the objections, the committee voted to approve the plans, with four councillors voting in favour, three against and one abstention.