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Little change expected at top of Maidstone council as Conservatives reflect on election losses

Conservatives in Maidstone look set to retain control of the borough council despite suffering losses.

The Tories had spent most of last year with a slim one-seat majority until mid-April when one of its members was dismissed as he hadn’t attended a council meeting for six months after moving away.

Council leader David Burton
Council leader David Burton

Their hold on the administration has been weakened further still following last Friday’s local election results after they made a net loss of four seats, securing 24 of the 55 seats available.

It left no party with overall control and, in theory, a rainbow coalition could take control, if the Lib Dems with 12 seats, Labour with six and the Greens with three all worked together.

But they would still need the support of at least seven of the 10 Independent councllors and last year many of the Independents consistently voted with the Conservatives.

Even Cllr Clive English, the leader of the Lib Dem group, was predicting that the ruling Conservatives would still be holding the reins when the council’s annual general meeting takes place on the morning of Saturday, May 20.

Under the terms of the council’s consitution, Tory leader Cllr David Burton will automatically remain as council leader unless he loses a vote of no confidence.

Cllr Vanessa Jones: Shock result for the Tories
Cllr Vanessa Jones: Shock result for the Tories

He could include one of the Independents in his cabinet in order to secure their support.

The other outcome that all the parties will be re-assessing following last Thursday’s vote is the victory of the Independent Vanessa Jones in Boxley Ward which is traditionally a Tory stronghold.

Cllr Jones secured a comfortable 228 vote majority over the sitting Conservative councillor Anne Brindle, and she polled four times the vote of the Labour and Lib Dem candidates.

The chairman of Bredhurst Parish Council has been one of the prominent campaigners against the borough council’s plans to allocate a 2,000-home garden village at Lidsing.

Cllr Jones has a long history as a local activist having founded the Bredhurst Woodland Action Group in 2005, and having been awarded the British Empire Medal in recognition of her conservation work in 2016.

She said: “I was successful because the residents of Boxley are not happy with the amount of building going on in the ward.

One of the many protests against the Lidsing Garden Village scheme
One of the many protests against the Lidsing Garden Village scheme

“I’ve also had strong support from the Against Lidsing Campaign.

“We need affordable housing in the right place and with the right roads, but Lidsing is not the way to go.

“The people of Boxley have spoken. Everybody is so concerned with what the Conservatives are doing at Lidsing and at Lenham (where there is a 5,000-home garden village proposed) – it’s just not right!”

The one bit of cheer for the Conservatves was the election of Cllr James Reid for the Coxheath and Hunton Ward, who saw off competition from the Green and Lib Dem party candidates.

The Lib Dems had held the seat last time, although their sitting member Richard Webb did not seek re-election this time around.

Aged only 20, Cllr Reid will certainly stand out in the council chamber.

Newly elected: Cllr James Reid (Con)
Newly elected: Cllr James Reid (Con)

A former student at Sutton Valence School, Cllr Reid, from Marden, later went to North Kent College to study football, coaching and sport. He is now a professional sports coach.

It was the second time he had stood for election; last year he had been unlucky in East Ward.

He is the son of Cllr Lottie Parfitt-Reid, who also represents Coxheath and Hunton. She said: “I think he was slightly nervous at the count and a bit surprised to be elected – as we all are the first time.

“But now he’s really throwing himself into it.”

Cllr Reid said: “I’m hugely honored that the residents of Coxheath and Hunton have put their faith in me for the next year.”

James' Mum: Cllr Lottie Parfitt-Reid
James' Mum: Cllr Lottie Parfitt-Reid

“ I do feel that there’s often a lack of young voices being heard, and there’s often criticism of younger people for not being engaged. I see this as a really good opportunity to learn about local government and also to give back to my community.

“I do have a great support in my mum who I have seen work really hard – she’s always rushing out the door to meet residents or attend meetings!

“As a sports coach my passion is teaching children about being fit and active, but most importantly being part of a team and working together. So hopefully this is something I can bring to the table.

“I’m a big believer in having a positive attitude and always encouraging people to do and be their best rather than criticizing and putting people down, I see a lot of the latter in politics and hopefully I can be that positive voice.

“Anyway I’m very excited to see what the next year will bring!”

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