Published: 12:30, 06 May 2022
| Updated: 19:22, 06 May 2022
The Conservatives have lost control of Tunbridge Wells district council after 22 years - one of two Kent authorities to see its Tory majority overturned at the local elections.
The council had become a safe Tory seat but the party has been forced to run as a minority since last year
A third of the council was up for election, 16 seats, and 10 were held by Conservative councillors, plus one vacancy left by a Tory.
Of these seats nine were lost to opposing parties, four to the Lib Dems, three by the Tunbridge Wells Alliance (TWA) and two to Labour.
This leaves the Liberal Democrats as the largest party in the council with 16 seats, while the Tories drop to 12.
Negotiations will now likely begin between the Lib Dems, Labour and the TWA over forming a coalition to run the authority..
Talking after the count, former council leader Tom Dawlings said the party didn’t deserve to lose as badly as it did, and that he would consider his position.
He also said he was in no position to lead the council and would talk with the opposition about the future on Monday.
He said: “I’m really disappointed that we’ve lost some good councillors so I’m sad for them.
“I think in certain ways it’s undeserved, we’ve done a good job during the pandemic.
“There are positive things happening in the town, such as the Amelia Scott.
“We didn’t try to focus on national issues, I told people many a time I’m just a local politician and I’m really not in a position to comment on what the national concerns are.”
This is the final time elections will be split across the borough when a share of council will be voted in - the next ballot in 2024 will see the entire council voted in en masse.
The first results were in St James', where Rob Wormington kept the ward for the Lib Dems and in Southborough and High Brooms where Alain Lewis held his seat for Labour.
Council leader Tom Dawlings was returned for the Tories, but with a much smaller margin of 91.
In the first big upset, the Mayor of Tunbridge Wells, Chris Woodward (Con) was deposed by the Lib Dems for Jamie Johnson.
Then followed three more big Tory losses: Sherwood and Brenchley/Horsmonden fell to Labour and the Tunbridge Wells Alliance (TWA) respectively. And Culvenden fell into Lib Dem hands, with nearly 1,000 more votes than in 2018.
TWA kept their seat in Park ward, with Cllr Pope standing once more.
The one vacant seat, Paddock Wood West, fell to Labour after Matt Bailey (Con) resigned after Partygate.
Meanwhile a trend of Tory losses continued as Paddock Wood East was taken by TWA.
By 1pm the Conservatives had lost seven seats.
Pantiles fell to the Lib Dems while Hawkhurst/Sandhurst went to TWA.
Talking of his party’s success, Cllr Mark Ellis (Lib Dem) said local issues were more important than national ones.
He said: “In Tunbridge Wells the main issue is the town centre.
“It has been neglected, we’ve seen many shops close and there are people who are proud of this town that really want to bring life back to Tunbridge Wells.
“There are a better way of doing things, certainly when I look at redeveloping housing, it’s about the people and community,
Asked about what the next steps were for the party he said discussions would take place: “We are now the largest party in the council, not enough for a majority, we need to talk with other parties to see what we can do.
“We need to look at the figues, sit down and talk probably over the weekend and then find out what we can do.”
The party also held onto Speldhurst/Bidborough.
The last seat to change hands was Southborough North as Lib Dems made another gain on the Tories.
Meanwhile St John's and Pembury remained Lib Dem and Tory respectively.
It means the Tories have gone from 21 cllrs to 13.
There was a similar result in Maidstone where the Conservatives also lost its majority.
Meanwhile parties on the other side of the table could now look to form an alliance or coalition with each other, as no party has an overall majority.
The Tunbridge Wells results can be found in full below: