Call for town council in Tonbridge after Tory losses

Call for town council in Tonbridge after Tory losses
MEET THE GREENS: Mark Hood (left) and April Clark (centre) celebrate their victory with fellow Green Party candidates

The Liberal Democrats and Green Party took both seats in Vauxhall and Judd wards respectively after the voting last Thursday [May 2].

Now they are calling for a representative body that serves the specific concerns of the town – Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council’s [TMBC] offices are 10 miles away in Kings Hill.

The Conservatives still retain a large majority across the borough despite losing nine seats but they lost four of them in Tonbridge itself, out of 15 in total.

The Greens sensationally swept to victory in Judd with 79 per cent of the vote.

The new councillors are April Clark and Mark Hood, chair of the local protest group Keep River Lawn Green, which is trying to save the green space in the town centre after TMBC’s Cabinet voted to sell it to developers for housing.

Lib Dem Frani Hoskins was elected in Vauxhall with running mate Garry Bridge taking 62 per cent of the vote and ousting Maria Heslop after 11 years.

Cllr Hoskins had represented the ward for 21 years before she was voted out in the 2007 ballot.

In the euphoria after her success at the count in Larkfield Leisure Centre, she said: “We are keen that Tonbridge should have its own voice as a town council.

‘Look at the way they look after the town’s open spaces, it takes forever to get things done’

But she stressed that any decision should be made by the general public, not by politicians, adding: “If the majority of the town was against it then we wouldn’t pursue it.”

That was echoed by Cllr Hood, who said: “The Green Party supports a Town Council, but we want the campaign to be run by the people, not by two or three political parties – it’s got to be independent.

“We suspended the idea during the campaign, but now we will call a meeting, put a steering committee together and plough on.”

The TMBC Leader Nicolas Heslop has previously told the Times that the cost of such a body would be paid for by residents.

“Those promoting a Tonbridge Town Council should consider the costs as well as any possible benefits,” he said last March.

“It would need its own premises and staff, and a need for another layer of management.”

But Cllr Hoskins said: “The costing of a town council could come out of the borough council’s Special [Expenses] precept.”

The ‘local charge’, approved in 2016, was designed to offer ‘a fairer system in terms of financial equity for taxpayers across the borough’.

The town’s residents have paid more than £50 a year in Special Expenses since April last year.

This covers the costs of services provided by TMBC in the town. Elsewhere they are paid for by the precepts of parish and town councils.

‘River Lawn would never have come up if we had a town council because it wouldn’t be the borough council’s to sell’

Among the provisions are churchyards, open spaces, play areas, parks and sports grounds, and ‘support given to local events’.

Cllr Hoskins said: “River Lawn would never have come up if we had a town council because it wouldn’t be the borough council’s to sell.

“Real issues proved to be very important on the doorstep in this campaign, people were very exercised about River Lawn.

“I was part of the campaign to save it, I knocked on 700 doors and got 300 responses [in 2017].”

Cllr Hood said TMBC was ‘too distant’, adding: “Look at the way they look after the town’s open spaces, it takes forever to get things done.

“A town council can get funding for these places through a raft of different initiatives that the borough council cannot access. They have a very laissez faire attitude to local government.”

Ironically, the Greens’ victory came following Cllr Peter Bolt’s decision to stand down after serving Judd ward since 1976.

The 92-year-old was the only remaining councillor to have served on TMBC’s predecessor in the town, the Tonbridge Urban District Council.

CREST OF A WAVE: The insignia of the old Urban District Council in Tonbridge

There had been an Urban District Council from 1894 until the Local Government Act of 1972 saw its merger with Malling Rural District and parts of Tonbridge Rural District to become Tonbridge & Malling District Council.

The opposition parties joined forces to help bring down the Tories in the town.

Cllr Hoskins said: “It’s difficult to find candidates for all 54 seats so we help each other to ensure that we have candidates.”

She paid tribute to the new Green party councillors in Judd ward: “I have always been an activist. I’m pleased for Mark and April, they deserve it.”

Cllr Hood said: “We had an agreement so that we didn’t undermine each other’s candidates.

“We didn’t want to split Frani’s vote, and we really wanted to see her back in Kings Hill.”

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