AROUND 120 Winchester residents last night attended the launch of a new alliance aiming to kick party politics out of the district.

Winchester Independents hailed an "amazing" turnout as they recruited election candidates and rallied support for their bid to overhaul Winchester City Council.

Many in the audience aired discontent at how members of the public are treated at council meetings and a perceived lack of vision for the city.

Non-partisan politicians from across the south shared their experiences in a bid to inspire volunteers.

Peter Macfadyen, a self-styled "accidental politician" who led an independent takeover of Frome Town Council, said cabinet systems like Winchester's, where decisions are taken by a small group of senior councillors, turned politics into a "dysfunctional charade".

He said: "There is no place for party politics at this level. When you look at this room there's probably more potential candidates here than there are for all the parties put together."

However, warning of potential pitfalls, he said: "A lot of things go wrong because they start as a single issue, the anti-Tesco party or something like that, and sadly when they're finished with that issue they realise they don't like each other and everything falls apart."

Gavin Blackman, chairman of the former Save Barton Farm campaign, shared his experiences of the council during his fight against the 2,000-home development.

He said officers were "gagged" and made to support the majority of politicians, while he was treated "like a little child" when he addressed councillors.

Residents are typically given three minutes to speak at meetings. Councillors can ask them questions but do not have to debate the points raised.

Mr Blackman added: "I never got the sense that the council had a holistic vision for Winchester as a whole. It's all very piecemeal and it was all very politically driven."

Conservative city councillors Kim Gottlieb, Ian Tait and Rose Burns each addressed the meeting and laid claim to independent values, with Cllr Tait describing himself as the "the most maverick councillor there is".

The Independents are hesitant to write a manifesto but leading member Judith Martin said key issues included affordable housing, empty homes, air quality and "proper planning".

She said: "If we could hold the balance of power I think we could start to make a real difference, and I think Winchester needs it. If I could count the planning debacles I think I'd run out of fingers.

"We're not just triggered by the Silver Hill business but the Claer Lloyd-Jones report is confirmation we're barking up the right tree."

Jan Pahl, of Canterbury District Campaign for Democracy, praised Winchester's shop fronts but urged the city to join her Historic Cathedral Cities Alliance, which she said aimed to protect heritage in decision making.

She said: "We need to remind our councillors that not only is our heritage beautiful and part of our culture, it's also part of our value, part of our wealth creation."

Three district residents from outside the city attended, according to a show of hands.