Theatre row and sale of public assets could cost the Tories seats in the local elections
2nd May 2019
VOTERS of Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge & Malling go to the polls today to elect new councillors.
The two borough’s join 246 other local councils in England and a further 11 in Northern Ireland who are electing more than 8,200 seats in this year’s local elections.
In Tunbridge Wells, just over a third of the Council’s 48 seats are to be contested as the local elections are held over a four-year cycle, where one third of the council is up for election every year except for one year in four when there is no election.
Many councils choose to re-elect their public officials in this way, rather than re-elect an entire chamber, as it provides continuity and consistency, while other local authorities, such as Tonbridge and Malling, are electing their entire council chamber.
All political parties have fielded candidates in Tunbridge Wells with 78 prospective councillors from all the main political parties contesting 18 seats in 16 wards, including two by-elections in Park ward and Paddock Wood East.
In the borough of Tonbridge & Malling, 52 seats out of 54 are being contested in 23 wards—with the Conservative councillors, including Cabinet member for housing, Piers Montague, not being challenged in and Mereworth and Down.
Among the 129 candidates there are 52 Tories, 27 Liberal Democrats, 22 Labour, 14 Greens, 10 independents and four from UKIP.
Brexit is set to play an integral role in what box people may tick at the polling stations this year, with nationally, some predicting a large defeat for the Conservative Party, who are defending more than 4,600 seats across England.
Analysts suggest the Tories could lose as many as 1,000 of these seats as votes punish Theresa May over the failure to leave the EU.
Locally, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s Calverley Square project could cost the local Conservative Party seats.
More than a hundred campaigners and members of opposition parties attended a march last weekend to protest against the £90million development.
But voters also opposed to the theatre and civic centre plans may have too much choice on their ballot papers, with all non-Tory parties opposing it, which could result in any opposition to the Conservatives being split.
Whatever the outcome, the Tunbridge Wells Conservative Party cannot lose overall control of the council, although this is not the case for many of the 134 Conservative controlled councils across the country.
In Tonbridge & Malling, the Local Plan development on Green Belt, High Street pollution and congestion levels, as well as the Council selling off publicly owned assets could all have a major effect on who people vote for.
Calverley Square clash coming to a head
AS VOTES are counted on Friday, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council will hear if their Calverley Square theatre development will get the go ahead.
The Planning Inspectorate is expected to announce whether it has confirmed the use of compulsory purchase orders [CPOs] the council needs to bring its plans into fruition.
Among the opposition to the Council’s use of CPOs is Hoopers department store.
The retailer at the bottom of Mount Pleasant Road has been involved in an embittered row with the council over access rights to its car park for the new theatre and civic centre on the edge of Calverley Grounds.
Earlier this month, Hoopers released a new statement, reiterating its opposition to the plans because a number of comments it made at the inquiry into the council’s use of CPOs have been ‘misinterpreted’, they say.
It is thought some prospective Conservative councillors, during their election campaigns, have been making suggestions that the department store no longer objects to the Calverley Square development due to remarks Hoopers made during the planning inspectorate’s public inquiry held in February.
The department store has dismissed this suggestion saying the comments were ‘taken out of context’ and ‘misinterpreted’.
They said they support the theatre ‘in principle’ but the planned use of the Hoopers car park they find ‘unacceptable’.
They added: “Our objection remains, unaltered, and will be considered and reported upon in due course by the Planning Inspector along with all the other objections made to the CPO.”