Published: 13:28, 26 May 2021
| Updated: 19:07, 26 May 2021
It is all change as a new leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and a new mayor have been elected.
At the same full council meeting today, Chris Woodward (Con), the deputy mayor, was elected as mayor of Tunbridge Wells.
But despite the changes to the new-look chamber, they remain deadlocked after the Conservatives failed to secure the 10 seats they needed to retain overall control at the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council elections earlier this month.
All 24 opposition councillors voted against Cllr Dawlings’ Conservative succession as leader but the vote was carried after new mayor, Cllr Woodward, used his casting vote to carry the motion forward.
It was a decision which left Hugo Pound (Lab), leader of the Labour group, frustrated.
The Sherwood ward councillor said: "It was not unexpected but, for the Conservative group to assume still, they are the leading party is arrogant. It doesn’t reflect the balance in the council."
Cllr Dawlings, who was first elected to the council in 2014 and has been portfolio holder for finance and governance since 2019, says he approached each leader of the opposition groups last week but was unable to arrange to meet ahead of the full council meeting.
He said: "I suggested that, even without a hung council, my aim would be to have good relations with opposition groups mainly because we would be in full agreement on most of the services the council provides.
"But in the balanced state the council is now in, working more closely together is all the more important.
"Sadly, my approach to sort out some matters in advance of the full council meeting were rebuffed.
"We have major matters to address – the local plan; the climate emergency and our net zero target for carbon emissions by 2030; our property assets and completion of the Amelia Scott.
"The boundary commission is about to start an investigation to balance up the wards sizes across the borough which, inevitably, will lead to many changes.
"Some of the services provided by our major contractors are presently less than satisfactory.
"The pandemic has seriously impacted on the council’s income, so there are some major financial decisions to take to balance our revenue budget and replenish reserves.
"Despite the initial rebuff, I hope the opposition group leaders will now be prepared to discuss establishing good working relationship because that is what our residents and businesses both need and deserve."
Tunbridge Wells Alliance leader David Hayward this week said he had been trying to get hold of former leader Cllr McDermott in the hopes of striking a deal and feels all opposition parties are united in wanting what is best for the area.
"All the opposition wants what's best for the borough," he said.
"There is no in fighting amongst us.
"We have major matters to address...."
"It's not going to be Alliance-led, Labour-led or Lib Dem-led.
"We are all interested in what's best for the people of the borough."
Cllr Pound believes Cllr Dawlings will be a better leader of the council than Cllr McDermott was.
"I think that Tom is more capable in terms of engaging with the opposition," he said.
"But whether that will influence the others in his group, I don’t know."
Cllr Woodward, who has represented Broadwater since 2006, has also replaced previous mayor Joy Podbury.
As is customary, the mayor chooses a charity to support during their term of office and Cllr Woodward will be supporting Mental Health Resource, a mental health charity.
The new deputy mayor is Godfrey Bland (Con), ward member for Hawkhurst and Sandhurst.
The council stands at Conservatives 24, Liberal Democrats 13, Tunbridge Wells Alliance 5, Labour 5, Independent 1.