Published: 09:55, 08 May 2021
| Updated: 10:34, 12 May 2021
The votes for the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council elections are in and the Conservatives have failed to secure the 10 seats they needed to retain overall control.
They remain the biggest party on the council, with exactly half the seats, but secured only 37% of the overall vote.
Of the 19 seats being contested this time, the Tories kept hold of nine, but the Lib Dems took seven which was a gain of four (one seat had previously been held by an Independent), Labour took two, a gain of one, and the Tunbridge Wells Alliance took one seat, a gain for them.
The results go counter to most of the results declared in other parts of the country yesterday, where Conservatives made gains at Labour's expense.
National commentators attributed the Conservative success then to either the "Brexit Bounce," the "Boris Bounce" or even the "Vaccination Bounce."
But it seems local issues have played a far more important part in these elections.
In particular, the Tories are still suffering the fall-out over their failed Calverley Square regeneration project. And the administration's housing plans have also played a part.
In Capel where the council is proposing to build a 5,000-home Garden Village, the sitting Conservative was trounched by Save Capel campaigner and local parish councillor Hugh Patterson, who stood for the Lib Dems.
In addition, Labour are not the Conservatives' main rivals here. The Liberal Democrats are the second largest party and there is also the intervention of the Tunbridge Wells Alliance, a home-grown residents' party formed in 2018, that gained one seat today and came second in several others.
After the count, Liberal Democrat Ben Chapelard, who kept his seat in St James Ward, said: "The Conservatives have lost the election today.
"I think it is a new beginning for Tunbridge Wells.
"The Conservatives are out of ideas and out of touch with residents."
The French-born man said the next few days would be "interesting", with no party having overall control.
There was a mixed response from the leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, Alan McDermott, speaking in the Town Hall after the count.
Despite the Conservatives having lost overall control, he said: "We had a very successful day yesterday (in the KCC elections) where we won all six seats.
"Today, we didn't have such a successful day, but we were defending 16 seats.
"So, the thing is, they can choose the seats they want to go for."
Negotiations are now expected to take place to decide how the council will be formed with no party getting an overall majority.
The Conservatives hold 24 seats while all the other parties hold 24 seats between them. A deal will need to be struck somewhere.
Cllr McDermott said: "The split is 24-24. As it stands at the moment, we could just keep stopping each other."
Tunbridge Wells Alliance leader David Hayward said his party had a good platform to build on.
He said: "We gained a place and came a strong second in some places like Benenden and Cranbrook."
Cllr Hayward, who says he believes they have shown they are not "a one-issue party" anymore, also says the party decided not to appeal directly to residents by knocking on their doors - due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: "We didn't do that, really, because of the pandemic.
"I think that cost us because the other parties were out there canvassing and we didn't do that."
But he added: "Next year, I think you will find we will get more and more support."
The Tunbridge Wells Alliance was set up in opposition to plans for a multi-million pound development, in Caverley Square.
Tunbridge Wells elects one-third of its 48 councillors at a time, but because these elections were delayed a year due to Covid, the number has crept up through resignations and a death, and in total 19 new councillors were elected in 17 wards.
Residents in three wards - Frittenden and Sissinghurst, Paddock Wood East and Southborough North - were not given a vote this time.
Residents in two wards - in Speldhurst and Bidborough, and in St James - got to elect two new councillors each.
The Conservatives have run the council since 1998.
At the last election in 2019, they emerged with 27 seats and a six-seat majority over all the other parties combined.
Resignations and defections had increased their majority to eight going into this election.
Of the 19 seats being contested, the Conservatives previously held 13, the Lib Dems three, Labour one, there was one Independent and one vacant seat that had been Conservative.
The Tunbridge Wells Alliance took first blood in the first election result to be declared this morning, with their candidate David Knight unseating long-standing Tory councillor Barry Noakes, who had represented the area since 2008.
In other results, Victoria White has taken Park Ward for the Conservatives. She replaces Conservative Becki Bruneau who did not stand this time.
Jane March has been re-elected in Brenchley and Horsmonden for the Conservatives.
Paul Roberts has taken Pembury for the Conservatives. He replaces Conservative David Reilly who didn't stand this time.
But Diane Hill has won for Labour in Southborough and High Brooms, retaining her seat.
In Benenden and Cranbrook, Sean Holden has retained his seat for the Conservatives.
In a result that undoubtedly reflected the enormous anger locally at the borough council's plan to impose a Garden Village at Capel, voters deserted the Conservatives in favour of Capel Parish Councillor Hugh Patterson, who stood for the Liberal Democrats. The ward saw the biggest turnout of the election at 53.4%.
In St John's Ward, Lib Dem Peter Lidstone held on to his seat.
In the two-seat ward of Speldhurst and Bidborough, the Tories held onto both seats. Harry Allen and David Stanyer were both elected.
The Lib Dems have gained a seat in Pantiles and St Mark's Ward. Wendy Fitzsimmons replaces the Conservative Len Horwood who had sadly died in office.
In Rusthall, Labour have gained a seat. Alex Britcher was elected, taking over from the former Conservative Mayor Joy Podbury who did not stand this time around.
The Lib Dems have held onto Culverden, with Justine Rutland keeping the seat she won in a 2019 by-election.
The Lib Dems also took both available seats in St James Ward. Ben Chapelard retained his seat, and Rob Wormington joins the council replacing the Independent Dave Neve, who didn't stand this time.
In Sherwood, the Conservatives held the seat with Lance Goodship taking over the seat from fellow Conservative Frank Williams, who didn't stand this time.
The Lib Dems have gained a seat in Broadwater, with Christopher Hall ousting Conservative Barbara Cobbold.
The Conservatives held on to Hawkhurst and Sandhurst, with Beverley Palmer retaining her seat.
The Conservatives have held on to Paddock Wood West, but with Bill Hills taking over from Elizabeth Thomas who didn't stand for re-election.
The council now stands at Conservatives 24, Liberal Democrats 13, Tunbridge Wells Alliance 5, Labour 5, Independent 1.