Published: 16:47, 07 May 2021
| Updated: 08:08, 10 May 2021
The Conservatives have strengthened their hold on Maidstone council over the Lib Dems, while also nearly managing to unseat council leader Martin Cox.
As is custom, Maidstone is only electing a third of councillors this year, with 19 wards being contested. At the local authority, one third of councillors are elected each year, on a three year cycle.
The count has taken Maidstone Exhibition Centre, in Detling and saw the Conservatives gain five new seats - four of them from their Lib Dem rivals. They also filled two vacancies, which had previously been held Conservatives.
There are 55 councillors in total. Before the poll, the Conservatives led with 22 councillors, with the Liberal Democrats close behind with 21.
Today's result means there are now 29 Conservative councillors and 17 Liberal Democrats.
All eyes were on East ward, where Lib Dem and council leader Martin Cox held onto his seat of 10 years, in the face of a challenge to a campaigner and vocal critic of his administration and by the narrowest of margins with a Conservative rival.
Kate Hammond stood as an Independent against Cllr Cox.
Mrs Hammond is the chairman of the Save Our Heathlands group, which is opposed to the council's plans for a garden village, made up of thousands of homes, at Lenham Heath.
MBC has been acting as master-developer for the development, which is included in the council's draft Local Plan Review, a blueprint for building in the borough.
In the final result Martin Cox polled 762 votes, but there were just 15 votes in it with the Conservative candidate Harprit Dogra, who polled 747. Mrs Hammond polled 333.
At the last election that Cllr Martin Cox fought, in 2016, he was returned with 987 votes, more than double that of his nearest rival, Conservative Steven Sheppard on 464.
Kate Hammond revealed that the votes were so close between Martin Cox and the Conservatives that the ballots had to be recounted about seven times.
She said that although she lost, she hopes her 333 votes will act as a "wake-up call" to the current administration.
Mrs Hammond said she only decided to run the day before the deadline to put in her submission.
She said: "In three weeks I got 333 votes, imagine what I could do in a year. I got 333 votes, that's got to tell these blokes something.
Mrs Hammond said her intention was to split the vote and challenge the leader of the council.
She said she had "enough of bad planning, enough of bad decisions."
Cllr Cox said he was delighted to retain his seat.
He denied the vote was a referendum on the Heathlands Garden Project, a huge housing development MBC has been acting as master-developer for.
Asked about Mrs Hammond's opposition, he said he was expecting her to get between 10 and 15% of the vote.
He said: "I think she has done very well, I am never upset about anybody standing, I would encourage more people to come out and stand."
When asked if he had been nervous about today's result Cllr Cox said all you can do is the work "to make people aware of what I have done and what I aim to do."
After Emily Fermor (Lib Dem) announced she wasn't standing in Coxheath and Hunton the Conservatives win the seat as Simon Webb emerged victorious with 1,380 votes.
There was another loss in Shepway South too where Eddie Powell (Ind) loses the seat he's held since 2014 to Gary Cooke (Con)
Mr Cooke (Con) polled 375 to Mr Powell's 267.
Bridge is gained by the Conservatives after former councillor Georgia Havey (Lib Dem) decided not to stand.
Tom Cannon is elected with 743, while Donna Greenan (Green) took 541.
Heath ward is another Conservative gain and Lib Dem Bryan Vizzard loses his seat. He was first elected in 2008 and the seat had to undergo a recount.
Lib Dem Bryan Vizzard, who had represented Heath ward since 2008, but lost his seat to the Conservatives today, said perhaps not being able to canvas properly during the pandemic had affected the result.
He said he wasn't able to comment on whether support for the Conservatives nationally had played a part but added he would miss being a councillor.
"I will miss the people, ignoring the colours that people are carrying, we work very well together and as a group we work for the residents."
Peter Holmes was elected with 577, while Mr Vizzard polled 540.
In Allington the Conservatives have gained a seat as Lib Dem Diana Lewins lost to Stan Forecast (Con) who polled 1,084 votes.
Mr Forecast, 20, is a University of Kent student, studying business in his second year and studied at Maplesden Noakes School.
He said: "I'm really proud and grateful to everyone that voted for me."
This is his first time as councillor.
The first result of the day was for Boughton Monchelsea and Chart Sutton ward, where Independent Steve Munford retained his seat by a margin of 512 votes. Karen Chappell-Tay (Con) received 271 while Caroline Jessel (Green) polled 140 and Bob Millar (Lab) 43.
Munford was first elected in 2012.
In Boxley ward Conservative Heidi Bryant stormed to victory with 1,481 votes. Her closest competitor Mike Thompson (Lib Dem) who had 298 votes.
The seat was left vacant following the death of long-standing Conservative cllr Wendy Hinder in February, following a short illness.
The Tories also hung on to Bearsted, with Dennis Spooner winning by a margin of 1,388 over Labour's Jim Grogan with 1,787 votes.
The Lib Dems keep North Ward. Michelle Hastie was elected with 787. Her nearest rival was Scott Hahnefield (Con) with 722.
Housing campaigner Claudine Russell, who led the fightback in Marden over a 2,000 home garden village plan stood for the Conservatives and has won the Marden and Yalding ward. She polled 1,695 votes, while Mike Summersgill (Green) took 504. The seat had previously been vacant.
The Conservatives keep Headcorn where Ziggy Trzebinksi (Con) took 1,127 votes. Nearest rival was Susan Parr (Green), with 226 votes.
Paul Cooper (Con) has been elected to Shepway North with 926 votes. The seat is a Conservative hold.
Conservatives hold North Downs ward and Patrick Garten returns, having taken 472 votes.
The Lib dems retain South Ward Paul Wilby returns with 998 votes.
In Barming and Teston Independent Fay Gooch is returned with 604 votes.
Denise Joy (Lib Dem,) who's served as a councillor since 1994 keeps her High Street ward seat after securing 675 votes.
In Fant ward Patrick Coates (Lab) retains the seat for Labour with 940 votes. He is a new councillor.
In Park Wood, the seat was held by the Conservatives, although a new councillor was elected. Lewis McKenna is the new councillor, with 647 votes. Dan Wilkinson (Lab) secured 473 and Andrew Cockersole (Lib Dem) received 117 votes.
Turnout for the 2021 election was 33.26%
Maidstone Borough Election results by ward:
To see how the Kent County Council election played out click here