Did Local Plan New Settlement Lead to Conservatives Losing Control of Tunbridge Wells

Kent Online

The votes for the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council elections are in and the Conservatives have failed to secure the 10 seats they needed to retain overall control.

They remain the biggest party on the council, with exactly half the seats, but secured only 37% of the overall vote.

Of the 19 seats being contested this time, the Tories kept hold of nine, but the Lib Dems took seven which was a gain of four (one seat had previously been held by an Independent), Labour took two, a gain of one, and the Tunbridge Wells Alliance took one seat, a gain for them.

The results go counter to most of the results declared in other parts of the country yesterday, where Conservatives made gains at Labour’s expense.

National commentators attributed the Conservative success then to either the “Brexit Bounce,” the “Boris Bounce” or even the “Vaccination Bounce.”

But it seems local issues have played a far more important part in these elections.

In particular, the Tories are still suffering the fall-out over their failed Calverley Square regeneration project. And the administration’s housing plans have also played a part.

Newly elected Hugh Patterson has been vocal in the Save Capel campaign
Newly elected Hugh Patterson has been vocal in the Save Capel campaign

In Capel where the council is proposing to build a 5,000-home Garden Village, the sitting Conservative was trounched by Save Capel campaigner and local parish councillor Hugh Patterson, who stood for the Lib Dems.

In addition, Labour are not the Conservatives’ main rivals here. The Liberal Democrats are the second largest party and there is also the intervention of the Tunbridge Wells Alliance, a home-grown residents’ party formed in 2018, that gained one seat today and came second in several others.

This is too simplistic. Whilst it is no surprise that the conservatives lost Capel, they retained Paddock Wood which has an equal amount of development and lost half a dozen wards with no larger allocations. It seems wider local issues with the administration are at play.

Of course as we have reported on many times one of the main reasons why local authorities hate doing local plans is that they are locally unpopular, and require often large majorities, taking the calculation that opposition from, or even loss of, one of more wards is containable. There is a strong case that local plans should be determined by special commissioners elected for a district or wider region and not councilors representing a ward which may only have a few hundred residents opposing ‘democratically’ the wishes of many thousands who do not have rights to land for homes. This is not democracy, it is feudalism. Putting the rights of a land owning few over landless many.