Council elections: 'I was at ground zero when Tonbridge flooded'
by Andy Tong | 10th April 2019
THERE are changes under way in Tonbridge's Vauxhall ward as Carl Lewis, record-breaking Poppy Appeal organiser and volunteer flood warden, brings his considerable presence to bear on the local elections as a Conservative candidate.
He has thrown his hat into the ring for Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council [TMBC] after the incumbent, Sarah Spence, decided not to stand for reelection following 12 years as a councillor. We spoke to Mr Lewis about his hopes and ambitions.
What do you think are the major issues facing Tonbridge?
Littering is a growing problem and while the council does have a remit to keep streets clean, it doesn't remove the responsibility for people to use a bin or take it home.
We need a revival of anti-littering campaigns like the old Keep Britain Tidy, combined with community clean-ups, support from retailers and managing the street scene contractors to keep bins emptied.
We also have some issues with speeding and anti-social behavior, which I've been discussing with our Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott to see what can be done. We would like to get a community speedwatch scheme in place, so we need a small group of volunteers.
Of course, we can't avoid talking about issues of planning and development.
You are a well-known figure in the town, through your flood warden role and the Poppy Appeal. What qualities would you bring to TMBC?
I've been at ground zero when it flooded, I've worked with retailers and local volunteers, the council and other agencies on a number of projects.
Combined with working in frontline security I've made a career out of communicating with people, teamwork and where necessary, conflict resolution!
As a security officer who's been through redundancy, unemployment, private renting and help-to-buy, I'd bring a genuine understanding of those of us who are just making ends meet.
Your predecessor Cllr Spence was a vocal opponent of the sale of River Lawn and your running mate Maria Heslop voted against the sale in Cabinet. Where do you stand on TMBC's sale of assets?
I have to take each case as it comes, and check all the information carefully. The council has a duty to keep tax as low as possible while providing a lot of services, and some assets have the potential to be long-term income generators, and others may be more of a money black hole.
I don't support the selling-off of assets unless it can be demonstrated that there are significant long-term benefits, both financially and for the community.
Where sales are necessary, I'd want contractual clauses in the sale that give something back to the community. Maria and Sarah always put people before party, and I fully intend to continue that, should I be elected.
Cllr Spence was also opposed to the impending demolition of the Primrose Inn. Should more be done to protect heritage properties in the town? Or do we need more houses?
It is a huge shame that the Primrose couldn't be saved, what the local community did to save the Nelson Arms was fantastic, but the Primrose has three competitors within a five-minute walk, so sadly as a business it had become unviable.
I would have liked to have seen the building preserved, but the planning committee is limited in the reasons it can turn down planning applications, and the application in question couldn't be rejected under any of these.
Maybe something could have been done earlier to protect it from developers. Of course buildings of character, of cultural, architectural or historical interest should be protected with whatever is in the council's power to do, and I would like to see a fresh review of buildings in the town to see if any qualify for protections they've not yet been given.
Tonbridge is a historic town, and we should preserve it's character. But it can't be avoided that more housing will be needed over the coming decades, and we have to be prepared for that, or there will be inflation of an already expensive local housing market.
What are you going to say when anyone mentions the B-word to you on the doorstep?
I don't think there is anybody, regardless of how they voted in the referendum, who is happy about the way it's been handled by Parliament, by either the government or the opposition.
I understand people are tempted to use local elections as a protest vote, but I don't think the Withdrawal Agreement, or lack of, should effect your bin collections or other local services.
What's it like having Maria as your running mate in Vauxhall - has she made you go running with her yet?
I'm convinced that Maria never sleeps. I don't know how she manages to juggle work, four kids, elite running and the council. She's quite inspirational, and I've got a great respect for her!
It's a relief that she's only my running mate in one sense of the phrase, I'm lucky that my wife Jenny, while also a half marathon runner, has shorter legs, so at least I can keep up with her.