New Council with Lib Dem Leader in Tunbridge Wells

Today, 25th May 2022, marks the start of the new administration on the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. Cllr Ben Chapelard (Lib Dem) Leader of the Council, gave the following speech today upon being voted in as Leader.


STARTS: In this month’s local elections, voters decided to change the political direction of our Borough for the first time in over two decades.


Today, all of us in this council chamber are witness to the calm and orderly transfer of power from the old administration to a new one.  


Events a few hours away from here remind us that there are some who wish to overturn the democratic will of a people by the force of the cannon and the gun. We should all be thankful that, for all its faults and contradictions, our democratic process works.


I would firstly like to thank my predecessor, Cllr Tom Dawlings. Not because convention requires me to do so but because Tom has always acted with great integrity and honesty in all his dealings with me. He has ensured an organised transition since the elections. I am also very grateful for the long conversation on the phone last week and for the well-considered advice he gave me as I embark on my new role.


Thank you Tom.


I would also like to thank my fellow councillors for their support as I embark on this new role.


Thank you also to my family for their ongoing encouragement and support.


I now would like to look to the future.


Our new and exciting administration is called the Borough Partnership.


The Borough Partnership is made up of the Liberal Democrats councillors, Tunbridge Wells Alliance councillors, Labour councillors and the independent councillor for Paddock Wood East.


We have come together to form this administration with one single and only objective: doing the best for our residents and our Borough.


Our administration has 5 key priorities. Our Focus on Five are:

  • Safeguarding the Council's finances
  • Vibrant and safer towns and villages
  • Carbon reduction
  • Genuinely affordable housing and social rental housing
  • Digital access, transparency and local democracy


Why safeguarding finances?


The Council is currently spending more money than it raises to provide services to its residents. This is unsustainable. Our first priority will be to do a comprehensive audit of the Council’s finances. I need to be honest with residents at the start of this administration and say there are difficult choices and decisions to be made. Our administration will always act with the best interest of the Borough and its residents.



Why vibrant and safer towns and villages?


The internet has put a huge strain on the traditional high street. I do not believe those who say that the high street is dead. I believe we can compete, and we will strive to do so, but we must adapt to the reality of the digital age. We want town centres we can all be proud of. We must also transform the way we live by using cars less and by walking and cycling more.



Why carbon reduction?


Climate change poses an existential threat to us. We cannot wait for the national government in Westminster to act decisively. The clock is ticking. This Council has powers at its disposal and we must use them. We must all act locally if we are to be successful globally.


Why genuinely affordable and social rental housing?


Quality housing is a key need to live a happy, healthy and fulfilling life. Whilst many residents enjoy living in some of the most desirable postcodes in the country, sadly, for too many residents that is unaffordable, denying them a quality of life we would all expect. This Council can and must play a transformative role in the lives of some of our most needy residents.



Why digital access, transparency and local democracy?


The reputation of the Council has suffered in the last few years. Under previous administrations residents felt unheard and disempowered about the biggest decisions in our Borough. We must never lose sight that this Council works for residents and should strive for the best for the Borough. Our administration will relentlessly seek to proactively engage with residents.


To deliver on our administration’s Focus on Five, we have reorganised the traditional way in which Cabinet members work.


I have asked the following councillors to serve in Cabinet:


Cllr Nancy Warne - Rural Communities & Deputy Leader

Cllr Justine Rutland - Tunbridge Wells Town and Local Areas

Cllr Luke Everitt - Environment, Sustainability and Carbon Reduction

Cllr Hugo Pound - Housing and Planning

Cllr Wendy Fitzsimmons - Leisure, Wellbeing and Culture

Cllr David Hayward - Governance and Transparency

Cllr Andy Hickey - Finance and Performance


In addition to the Cabinet members, I have appointed 4 Champions to help deliver our administration’s Focus on Five:


Cllr Peter Lidstone - Walking and Cycling Champion

Cllr Matthew Sankey - Local Business Champion

Cllr Alex Britcher-Alan - Charities and voluntary sector Champion

Cllr Mark Ellis - Town Market Champion


Our Focus on Five is the right thing to do by Tunbridge Wells town and borough. It is the right thing to do by our community and our neighbours. It is the right thing to do by the place we call home.


Thank you Mr Mayor. ENDS


[NOTES TO EDITORS: Delivered speech may have deviated slightly from this prepared text]

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