Council’s ‘Borough Partnership’ branded a ‘coalition of chaos’ after sudden resignation
The Lib Dem head of finance for the new Tunbridge Wells ‘Borough Partnership’ has stood down following a row over the introduction of parking fees at two Council-run car parks. Cllr Andrew Hickey, who represents Pantiles & St Marks, has also quit the local Lib Dems but is to remain at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) as an independent councillor. The now former head of finance at TWBC stepped down after plans to introduce parking fees in Councilrun car parks in Paddock Wood and Southborough were met with a backlash. Cllr Hickey, who served under new Council leader Ben Chapelard as Cabinet member for Finance and Performance, is due for re-election next year and quit his Cabinet role as well as resigning from the local Lib Dems last week.
Following his resignation, Council Leader Ben Chapelard, said: “I would like to thank Andy Hickey for his service as Cabinet member for Finance and Performance. “Andy worked hard with council staff to urgently tackle the multi-million pound deficits the Borough Partnership inherited from the previous administration.
“The number one priority of the Borough Partnership is safeguarding the council’s finances and we will continue to do this to try and protect council services.” Cllr Hickey declined to comment on his decision to resign, but it followed heavy criticism of a plan put forward by the Lib Dem-led coalition to scrap free parking in Paddock Wood and Southborough. Meetings were held by both Town Councils over the last week following growing resentment to cancel the first two hours of free parking in Yew Tree car park in Southborough and the first free hour of parking in the town centre car park in Paddock Wood. Both meetings attracted hundreds of residents and local business owners opposed to the plans. It followed petitions in the two towns that have now been signed by more than 3,000 people, with businesses, town councillors and residents angry that the Borough Partnership conducted no public consultation before announcing the plans. The move has also been blasted by Tunbridge Wells MP Greg Clark who said it would be ‘damaging’ to local businesses and was a ‘mistake financially’ as it could lead to empty shops and a fall in business rates for the Council. At a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee last month, Lib Dem Cllr Justine Rutland (Culverden) who is the cabinet member for Towns and Local Areas admitted the decision not to consult residents over the planned scrapping of free parking had been ‘a terrible and regrettable oversight’.
The Cabinet has now agreed to hold a consultation on the plans. The Borough Partnership – a coalition made up of Lib Dems, Labour and the Alliance – took over running the Council from the Conservatives in May following the local elections. The ballot saw the Lib Dems overtake the Conservatives as the largest party in the 48-seat Town Hall. The Lib Dems ended the election with 16 councillors and joined forces with the Alliance, who have nine councillors, and Labour who have seven, to form the ‘Borough Partnership’ coalition.
The Lib Dems now have just 15 councillors following Cllr Hickey’s resignation, but are still larger than the Conservative Party which has 13 members at TWBC. The Conservatives took to social media to brand the Borough Partnership a ‘coalition of chaos’ following the resignation of Cllr Hickey, which is not the first to hit the Lib Dems in recent times. Former chairman Cllr James Rands (Culverden) quit the party to become an independent before the local elections this year, following a spat with leader Ben Chapelard. And following his party’s victory in May, Cllr Mark Ellis (St John’s) challenged Cllr Chapelard for the leader’s role but was defeated by an internal Lib Dem vote.