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Former Ashford mayor predicts more Conservative losses as Tories lose control of borough council

A former Conservative mayor says the party will face more losses unless it changes its approach after he jumped ship less than a day after hanging up his chains.

Cllr Callum Knowles has called Ashford Borough Council’s leadership into question after his switch to independent wrenched control of the authority away from the Tories.


The Tenterden South representative only officially handed the mayorship over on Thursday, May 19, but left the party to stand as an independent less than 24 hours later.

He has been a Conservative councillor for the last seven years.

“I was considering standing down beforehand, but did not want my mayoral year defined by my move to become an independent councillor,” he explained.

“In my time as a Conservative I saw the number of seats drop from 34 to 23; in the last election in 2019 it was 26.

“This clearly shows the public are becoming more disillusioned with the administration, as shown in the last by-elections.”

Cllr Callum Knowles represents Tenterden South. Picture: Sue Ferguson
Cllr Callum Knowles represents Tenterden South. Picture: Sue Ferguson

Cllr Knowles says he had “lost faith” in the leadership, asserting that many of the “good things” in the borough over the last decade was because of the “calibre of some of the senior officers of the council guiding the political leadership”.

“I was also getting very tired of the in-fighting and the constant sniping at other parties,” he added.

“If half the energy was put into working with them rather than in-fighting, better outcomes could have possibly been achieved.”

Cllr Knowles’ move comes after the council came under fire for reportedly failing to put up appropriate resistance to plans for a controversial 141-home development in his ward.

The scheme on Limes Land between Appledore Road and Woodchurch Road, Tenterden, was allowed after the developers appealed, but the council has now applied for permission for a Judicial Review into the matter.

The Conservatives have lost control of Ashford Borough Council
The Conservatives have lost control of Ashford Borough Council

Wates Developments is behind the project, which initially featured 250 homes.

Cllr Knowles, of Eastgate Road, Tenterden, said: “I have decided to become one of the many independent councillors that are not driven by hackneyed party lines.

“I want to stand up for my ward openly without censure from party policy.

“Tenterden now has 50% of independent councillors who are driven to get a better deal for the town and the surrounding villages.”

Ashford MP Damian Green
Ashford MP Damian Green

Ashford MP Damian Green says he is “sad and disappointed” at Cllr Knowles’ move.

“I’m disappointed that at the end of his year as mayor, he immediately walked away from the Conservative group,” he added.

“Planning decisions are always difficult when they go the wrong way, but I don’t think that’s a reason to walk away from the party that got him elected in the first place.”

KentOnline contacted ABC leader Cllr Gerry Clarkson for comment following Cllr Knowles' move, but has not received a response.

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