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Kent local elections 2023: Big changes at Canterbury City Council as Tories lose control

Canterbury’s Conservative city council has been turfed out at the polls today, now only the third largest party.

Reduced to a minority administration by defections in recent weeks, the district’s Tories are now set to be the second biggest opposition party on the local authority.

The count in Canterbury
The count in Canterbury

Labour now have 18 seats, the Liberal Democrats nine, with eight going to the Conservatives and four to the Greens.

This means Labour could form a majority on the 39-seat authority by entering a coalition with the Green Party, however, they could also attempt to govern as a minority administration.

With the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives making only 17 seats of 39 between them, Labour could feasibly govern as a minority if they were confident that Greens wouldn’t vote down their plans.

The Green Party increased their representation by 300%, previously having only one councillor, Gorrell representative Clare Turnbull.

Labour now hold 18 seats in Canterbury
Labour now hold 18 seats in Canterbury

It is understood that the Green Party will meet on Sunday to decide on how to elect a leader for their newly expanded council group.

Conservative council leader Ben Fitter-Harding was ejected from his Chestfield seat, losing by more than 700 votes to the Liberal Democrats - who took both seats for the ward.

"It's a horrible feeling, not because of losing, although that's always hard, but because of not being able to represent the people of Canterbury, the people of Chestfield,” he said.

“There's some incredibly good work we've been doing, it's hard to step away from that and all the wonderful people at Canterbury City Council that I won't be working with anymore.”

It comes after months of controversy about the local plan for the district - which would see Canterbury divided into five traffic zones, with the council punishing people for travelling between the zones more times than allowed.

However, Mr Fitter-Harding wouldn’t rule out representing Canterbury in future, whether in Parliament or the county council.

Ben Fitter-Harding, leader of CCC, lost his seat in Chestfield
Ben Fitter-Harding, leader of CCC, lost his seat in Chestfield

“I also love this place, this is my home, I'm so passionate about getting what's best for Canterbury and if I can continue to represent the Cantebrury area in some way then I absolutely will.

“Still got my eyes on our underrepresentation in government, Canterbury needs to be better represented, maybe that's something that I can do, but for today I think I'll be glad to go home, sit with my children and have a rest.”

Canterbury’s Labour MP Rosie Duffield attended the count, saying: “I’ve never missed a count in Canterbury. I’ve done lots of these local election campaigns and once that’s in your blood you can’t leave it, it’s a bit of an addiction, and lots of my friends are standing.”

On the ousting of Ben Fitter-Harding she said: “I think Ben lost his seat when he was the person behind the big multi-story car park in the middle of Canterbury next to the station, it wasn’t particularly popular, it cost the taxpayer £9m and then he found a safe seat and I think some of his plans for just exceeding the government’s housing targets haven’t been at all popular either.”

She seemed supportive of a Labour - Liberal Democrats coalition, saying: “We do work together locally, we’re all friends, we all know each other, I think that would work really well.”

Speaking after the final results came through, Labour group leader, and probable next leader of the council Alan Baldock said: “We’ve certainly exceeded our expectations.

“We are humbled by the trust that the residents have put in us and we won’t let them down.

Labour's Harry McKenzie is likely to be the youngest member of Canterbury City Council after winning Sturry seat
Labour's Harry McKenzie is likely to be the youngest member of Canterbury City Council after winning Sturry seat

“We promised you a greener, fairer, better Canterbury district and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”

On possibilities for coalition making, the Northgate councillor said: “We will work with the other parties that share many of our values who have also been trusted by the residents and see what we can come up with.

“Talks will happen over the next few days.”

All four councillors of the Independent Serve to Lead Group - whose recent defections reduced the Conservatives to a minority administration - lost their seats.

Turnout was slightly increased, with 38.1% of eligible voters taking part, up from 36.1% in 2019’s elections.

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