New Council Leader forms his Cabinet

Cllr Alan McDermott, 74, a retired foreign exchange banker who served as Deputy Leader under David Jukes, was elected Leader of the controlling Conservative Group last Wednesday.

Despite a number of opposition councillors voting against his election, as well as several abstentions including two from his own party, the representative for Brenchley & Horsmonden passed a Full Council vote.

There were 25 in favour of him being Leader, 16 against and four abstentions.

Former cabinet member David Reilly, who resigned last week and wrote an open letter to the Times protesting at the ‘direction’ the council was taking on the Calverley Square development, refused to back Cllr McDermott.

Cllr Paul Barrington-King, who stood against Cllr McDermott in last week’s Conservative Group Leader election, also abstained.

Opposition Leader Ben Chapelard, the Liberal Democrat councillor for St James’, was absent from the Full Council meeting due to ill health.

Despite the fractious start to his tenure as Leader of both the council and Conservative Group, Cllr McDermott, a keen bowls player and golfer, says he has his party’s full backing.

“There were only two abstentions, so I won the election to be Leader quite comfortably,” he told the Times.

While the Conservative Group still retain full control of TWBC, the new Leader denies it will just be ‘business as usual’ for the council.

“Before the local election, the only opposition was internal to the Conservative Group, and perhaps that made us complacent,” he admitted.

“We now have to be more aware of the views of opposition parties and how they would like to improve Tunbridge Wells.”

One of the first tasks Cllr McDermott had to perform after his election as Leader last week was to choose his new cabinet, and while he has made a couple of significant changes, there is some familiarity with his predecessor’s team.

Firstly, despite being elected Leader, Cllr McDermott will retain his portfolio as head of Planning and Transport – primarily, as detailed in last week’s Times, he has spent the last four years working on the Local Plan, possibly the most important project facing the council.

Taking over as Deputy Leader, but staying in her position as Portfolio Holder for Culture, Leisure and Economic Development, Cllr Jane March remains in the cabinet.

Cllr March, who is an elected member for Brenchley & Horsmonden, has been a councillor since 2012 and is Chair of the Communities and Economic Development Cabinet Advisory Board.

Under David Jukes, Cllr March was behind a number of key projects, most notably The Amelia Scott, the council’s mixed-use cultural hub that caused a furore earlier in the year over the dropping and then reassigning of the suffragist’s surname from which the centre is named.

Another cabinet member from Jukes’s tenure chosen by the new Leader is Cllr Ronen Basu, who remains the Portfolio Holder for Sustainability.

The Culverden representative has served on TWBC since 2008, and while it is expected he will step down next year, he is an experienced councillor and sits on a number of committees, including the Planning and Transportation Cabinet Advisory Board and the Communities and Economic Development Cabinet Advisory Board.

Replacing Cllr Reilly, who resigned in protest after Cllr McDermott’s election to Conservative Group Leader, will be Cllr Tom Dawlings.

The new Cabinet Member for Finance and Governance has represented Benenden & Cranbrook since 2014. While new to the cabinet, he has been Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee and sat on the Finance and Governance Cabinet Advisory Board.

Cllr Carol Mackonochie is also new to cabinet, and perhaps the most inexperienced councillor chosen by Cllr McDermott.

She was elected to represent Capel in 2016 – the site of the proposed new garden village development of 2,600 homes – and has sat as Vice-Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, but now replaces Lynne Weatherly, who stood down at the last election, as Cabinet Member for Communities & Wellbeing.

Perhaps the most fundamental change made by Cllr McDermott is removing the position of Portfolio Holder for Economic Development and Communication, the position held by Tracy Moore before she lost her Park Ward seat earlier this month.

That cabinet position had been created to help communicate the council’s Calverley Square project, and has now been scrapped in favour of the new post of Cabinet Member for Property and Major Projects, which will be headed by Cllr David Scott.

The Culverden councillor will oversee major projects, property and estates, facilities, communications and engagement, and strategic economic development.

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