Published: 09:16, 06 May 2022
| Updated: 15:40, 06 May 2022
The Conservatives have lost their majority on Maidstone Borough Council.
Voters went to the polls in 18 borough council seats yesterday and the results are now in.
The Conservatives went into this election holding 29 of the 55 seats, while the Liberal Democrats had 11. There were seven Independents, with the Maidstone Group on five and Labour on three.
Of the 18 seats being contested this year, the Conservatives were defending in nine and lost two in Bridge and Park Wood.
In Shepway South Labour's Maureen Cleator took a seat from the Independents with 341 votes.
33,123 votes were cast across the borough - a turnout of 29.9%.
This is the next-to-last time that elections will be held for just one-third of the council. From 2024 the entire council will be elected en masse. The change means that those lucky enough to be elected today will serve for only two years instead of the customary four.
The last time these seats were contested was in 2018, when the Conservatives won 44% of the overall vote, the Lib Dems 29%, Labour 18%, Independents 5% and Greens 4%.
The count took place at the Exhibition Hall at the Kent Event Centre, at the Kent County Showground in Detling.
The other vote in Kent today was in Tunbridge Wells where the Conservatives lost eight seats.
The army of counters first have to verify that the number of ballot papers received matches the recorded number of votes cast at each polling station, before going on to count again to determine the number of votes cast for each candidate.
The counting went very quickly - too quickly in the case of North Ward where an error was made.
The returning officer, Alison Broom, initially announced that Lib Dem Cllr Tony Harwood had retained his seat with 771 votes.
But it later transpired that 200 of his votes had been included in with the Conservative's bundle, so that in fact he had 971 votes, and the Conservative candidate Scott Hahnefield had only 487, not 687 as announced.
At the end of the day, The Tories lost two seats, Labour gained two, although one was from Independent Malcolm McKay who had in fact been elected as Labour in 2018, but had changed his allegiance mid-term.
The Lib Dems picked up a seat from Nikki Fissenden who had been elected as a Lib Dem back in 2018, but had also switched allegiance to the Maidstone Group mid-term.
And the Greens finally secured their first seat on the council with party leader Stuart Jeffery winning Bridge Ward from the Conservatives.
Cllr Jeffery said: "I'm delighted; there's so much needs to be done, whether it's 20mph zones, reducing energy and food bills, tackling climate change or getting to grips with Maidstone's ridiculous traffic problems, which was the issue most on everyone's lips when I was campaigning."
Many felt that Cllr Jeffery deserved his win for persistence if nothing else. Counting General Elections, KCC and borough elections, this was the 24th time he had stood as a candidate.
Although the Conservatives were the losers, it was not by much.
They remain the biggest party, and with the support of some of the Independents are still likely to form the next administration.
Conservative group leader Cllr David Burton, who retained his own seat in Marden with an increased vote, was reasonably happy. He said: "We would have liked to have kept hold of Bridge Ward, but we've bucked the national trend.
"We've lost a couple of seats, but we are still the largest party and what that means is that we will be able to continue with our programme of improving Maidstone and looking after the needs of local people."
Those wishing to analyse the results will have a difficult job as there was not a consistent pattern across the borough, with voters seeming to vote very much for local issues or local candidates.
There were swings to the Lib Dems in some seats, to Labour in others and to the Conservatives in some.
Independent Janetta Sams was also returned in Harrietsham and Lenham with a much bigger vote, due no doubt to her vocal opposition to the council's Heathlands Garden Village scheme.
The only thing all parties could agree on was that the Greens had done well, not only securing their first seat, but achieving bigger votes elsewhere.
Afterwards, Cllr Harwood commented on the counting error in his ward. He said: "Any error in the democratic process is unacceptable as it disenfranchises residents who actually make the effort to vote."
He said: "To have transferred 200 votes from the Liberal Democrat to the Conservative and then announce this as the final result could have meant the difference between Conservative and No Overall Control had it been in another closer ward."
The results are below: