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Conservatives lose control of Ashford Borough Council after Tenterden representative Callum Knowles becomes independent


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The Conservative party has lost control of a council after its ex-mayor jumped ship less than a day after hanging up his chains.

Sources suggest Ashford Borough Council's leader could now face threats to resign after losing control of the authority following Cllr Callum Knowles change of allegiance.

Former mayor Callum Knowles is now an independent councillor for Tenterden South
Former mayor Callum Knowles is now an independent councillor for Tenterden South

Cllr Knowles, who represents Tenterden South, only officially handed the mayorship over on Thursday May 19, but left the Tories to stand as an independent less than 24 hours later.

His exit 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 was allowed after the developers appealed, although the council has now applied for permission for a Judicial Review into the matter.

Cllr Knowles' move means there are now 23 Conservative councillors out of 47, with the remaining 24 opposing seats made up of three independent councillors, 11 members of the Ashford Independents, six Labour and four Green representatives.

Sources inside the council say authority leader Gerry Clarkson could now face calls to resign – although this has been dismissed by other members of his party.

Cllr Gerry Clarkson has been leader of Ashford Borough Council since 2013
Cllr Gerry Clarkson has been leader of Ashford Borough Council since 2013
Developers want to build 141 homes on Limes Land in Tenterden
Developers want to build 141 homes on Limes Land in Tenterden

The Charing representative has been leader for almost 10 years, having taken over in April 2013 following the sudden death of former leader Cllr Peter Wood.

He survived a vote of no confidence tabled by his own party in a private meeting in February 2019.

One source said the leader was rumoured to have already been considering stepping down in the lead-up to next year's elections.

"Rumour has it that he is due to step down as leader in December anyway, in advance of the May 2023 elections – but this latest exit may bring that forward," they added.

However, ABC deputy leader Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con) says Cllr Knowles' exit "does not change much".

Cllr Paul Bartlett, ABC's deputy leader
Cllr Paul Bartlett, ABC's deputy leader
The Conservatives have lost control of Ashford Borough Council
The Conservatives have lost control of Ashford Borough Council

"In practice and for all intents and purposes, the Conservatives are still in control of Ashford Borough Council," he added.

"I don't want anyone to worry that the odds and sods will have their way, and I don't think there is any threat to [Cllr Clarkson's] leadership.

"It goes down to the maths - 23 Conservatives; 24 other councillors. It would require an extraordinary act of coordination of the other 24 to threaten the Conservative administration.

"The mayor - Cllr Jenny Webb - has the casting vote and she is Conservative."

KentOnline contacted Cllrs Clarkson and Knowles for comment, but has not received a response.

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