Lib Dems and Greens seize control of two Tonbridge wards
by Andy Tong | 3rd May 2019
THE radical change at local council level across the land has been reflected in Tonbridge, where the Conservatives have lost more than a quarter of their seats - four out of 15 - two to the Liberal Democrats and two to the Green Party.
THE radical change at local council level across the land was reflected in Tonbridge, where the Conservatives lost more than a quarter of their seats – four out of 15 – two to the Liberal Democrats and two to the Green Party.
The Tories retained a powerful majority on Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council [TMBC] – they still hold 39 seats out of 54 – but lost nine seats across the borough in the local elections on May 2.
Frani Hoskins, who had been a councillor in Vauxhall for 21 years before she lost in the 2007 ballot, was re-elected along with fellow Lib Dem Garry Bridge.
And in Judd ward the Greens created a sensation as they swept to victory after a turn-out of more than 50 per cent.
The winners there were Mark Hood, chair of the local protest group Keep River Lawn Green, and April Clark, the Greens’ constituency candidate at the last General Election.
They gained 79 per cent of the vote, contrasting with four years ago when the Tories enjoyed 66 per cent.
The Lib Dems claimed five seats in total to give themselves nine representatives, while Labour gained one and there was one Independent Alliance success, Wendy Palmer in Borough Green & Long Mill – meaning three independents now rule there.
'I have carried on working in Vauxhall even though I lost my seat 12 years ago, and it's brilliant to be back. But this is not the end, it's the beginning'
The only independent in Tonbridge, Stacey Pilgrim, polled an impressive 21 per cent in Trench against the Mayor, Pam Bates, who accrued 26 per cent – the same as fellow Conservative Georgina Thomas.
In Vauxhall, Maria Heslop, Cabinet member for Community Services and wife of Council Leader Nicolas Heslop, lost the seat she had held since 2007.
Carl Lewis, the town’s Poppy Appeal organiser and flood warden who was her running mate, failed to fill the role vacated by Sarah Spence.
She had decided to stand down as a councillor partly in protest at decisions taken by TMBC’s planning department.
Cllr Hoskins said: “I have carried on working in Vauxhall even though I lost my seat 12 years ago, and it’s brilliant to be back. But this is not the end, it’s the beginning.”
The former teacher at Sussex Road Primary School added: “I stood for the county council elections and did very well in Vauxhall, though I did poorly everywhere else in Tonbridge. But that renewed my spirit.”
Cllr Bridge, who works for a financial services firm in Hildenborough, was elected after running in the last three local elections.
He said the victory had come because ‘there is a sense that the Conservatives had total control. People wanted a different voice’.
The Green victory means that David Cure loses his seat after 16 years while Tony Lambeth, the man chosen to replace stalwart Peter Bolt, failed to make an impression.
Cllr Clark, who works in human resources and has an 18-month-old daughter, said: “The turn-out has been amazing, around 30 per cent overall but more than 50 per cent in Judd ward.”
'It’s been a brilliant campaign, it’s gone really well, we have been campaigning for a year. Yesterday we knocked on a thousand doors'
She added: “It’s been a brilliant campaign, it’s gone really well, we have been campaigning for a year and had over a hundred people helping us.
“We held a public meeting about the Local Plan and people remembered us from that, and yesterday we knocked on a thousand doors.”
Cllr Hood revealed: “We all went to the Foresters [pub] to celebrate, we used that as a training base along with the Nelson.
“We had dozens of people helping us out with the leaflets and they were all there.”
He added that the Greens wanted to work with fellow councillors to offer an alternative vision to the Tory majority.
“We are not interested in power,” he said. “We want to talk to other councillors and effect change.
“We want to change the way the council is structured, we want to see an end to the Cabinet system and work with the opposition – and there are more of them now – to put pressure on the Conservatives.
“We want to see best practice, we will look at policies other councils are doing, because our council’s business model is broken.”
He added: “We think people want real change, they can see what the council has been doing and have rejected their broken policies, like the Local Plan – building 4,400 homes on the Green Belt – and Special Expenses, which is solely down to their poor finances.
“The council has behaved with complete disregard to the people of the town – and they are sick to death of it.”
Council Leader Nicolas Heslop, who was re-elected in Cage Green, said: “While the Conservatives are the largest group on Tonbridge & Malling, I recognise that there are communities represented by other political parties.
“I will wish to listen constructively to the views of those members in how to deliver the best possible service for all our residents.
“We will work hard to ensure we continue to have an efficiently run council and deliver high-quality local services.”
A total of 129 candidates ran for office in the borough, consisting of 52 Tories, 27 Liberal Democrats, 22 Labour, 14 Greens, 10 independents and four from UKIP.
One ward in the borough, Down and Mereworth, was not contested because Conservative councillors Ann Kemp and Piers Montague, who replaced Matthew Balfour, are not being challenged.
Results ward by ward in Tonbridge
Vauxhall: Bridge (Lib Dem) 759 29%; M Heslop (Con) 526 20%; Hoskins (Lib Dem) 858 33%; Lewis (Con) 445 17%. Turn-out 35%
Judd: Bullen (UKIP) 144 4%; Clark (Green) 1477 39%; Cure (Con) 348 9%; Hood (Green) 1512 40%; Lambeth (Con) 272 7%. Turn-out 51%
Trench: Bates (Con) 484 26%; Marten C (Lab) 240 14%; Pilgrim (Ind) 366 21%; Richardson (Lab) 234 13%; Thomas (Con) 460 26%. Turn-out 29%
Medway: Botten (Con) 697 15%; Boughton (Con) 725 16%; Gray (Green) 528 12%; Hussey (Ukip) 207 5%; Lark (Con) 624 14%; Lloyd (Lib Dem) 333 7%; Marten A (Lab) 210 5%; Marten Z (Lab) 189 4%; Munro (Lib Dem) 281 6%; Partington (Green) 370 8%; Ruge (Green) 418 9%. Turn-out 31%
Higham: Brightmore (Lib Dem) 279 12%; King (Con) 785 34%; Ramsay (Lab) 187 8%; Stockdale (Green) 476 20%; Tombolis (Con) 608 26%. Turn-out 37%
Castle: Arigho (Lab) 129 5%; Branson (Con) 623 25%; King (Con) 640 26%; Songer (Lib Dem) 342 14%; Stepto (Green) 338 14%; Watson-Reynolds (Green) 323 13%; Wilson (Lab) 92 4%. Turn-out 38%
Cage Green: Buckley (Green) 352 14%; Davis (Con) 726 29%; Heslop (Con) 732 30%; Long (Green) 325 13%; Shergold (Lib Dem) 164 7%; Wallington (Lib Dem) 172 7%. Turn-out 37%