Liberal Democrats Win Two Seats at Borough Elections

With 23% of the votes, the Liberal Democrats held a seat in St. James' at the recent borough elections and won a seat in St. John's. Our former mayor, David Neve, took 51% of the votes in St. James' and Mark Ellis took 47% of the votes winning another seat in St. John's.

Disappointingly, Chris Hall lost by 8 votes in Broadwater, winning 39% of votes cast and Rachel Sadler came a close third in Park with 23% of votes cast.

The Liberal Democrats thank everyone who voted for our candidates together with all of our supporters who spread the word about the work we are doing in Tunbridge Wells. Finally, we want to thank our candidates themselves most of whom did a lot of the leg work themselves.

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Meet our 2018 Candidates

We are happy to announce the Tunbridge Wells Lib Dems are standing candidates in all 16 seats in the Borough election on 3rd May.

We asked our candidates to introduce themselves to you below:

 

Broadwater - Chris Hall

Culverden - Martin Brice

Paddock Wood East - Gillian Douglass

Park - Rachel Sadler

St James' - Dave Neve

St John's - Mark Ellis

Sherwood - Alan Bullion

Southborough North - Trevor Poile

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Lib Dems Stand Full Slate of Candidates

How would you summarise why you feel residents should vote for you?

The Liberal Democrats are the opposition on the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. We punch well above our weight - and that of the other opposition parties. We are running candidates in all 16 of the borough seats on May 3rd. We pride ourselves on listening to our residents and getting things done on their behalf. Getting the old cinema site cleaned up, campaigning for doorstep glass recycling and saving CCTV monitoring from being switched off by the Conservatives are just three examples of what we Liberal Democrats have achieved in the last few years.

What would represent a successful result?

Our candidates are highly motivated people who want to do their bit for the communities in which they live.The Liberal Democrats plan to hold the seat that we have and gain several more on the borough council in order to better hold the Conservatives to account. We hope to have some very talented new Councillors as part our council group. Our candidates are highly motivated people who want to do their bit for the communities in which they live.

What is your number one priority for the town?

To ensure that the borough is a great place to live for every one of the approximately 130,000 residents. There can be no more reductions in services as they have been cut to the bone. We want Tunbridge Wells to be a pioneer in 21st-century living. We need a strategic plan for the centre of Tunbridge Wells. The Conservative’s piecemeal approach has not worked and is not working. We need to tackle congestion, illegal levels of air pollution and the lack of safe roads, pavements and bicycle lanes.

And where would you get the money to finance your ambitions [eg. Reductions, savings]

More partnership working will achieve savings and income can be generated from property the council own. With council taxes increasing, we would seek to use the current budget differently in order to both ensure good public services and to make sure that the town and borough are great places for all our residents. For example, we would save the Conservatives’ £1.3m face lift of Mount Pleasant to deal with the root cause of the problem: Congestion. A rethink on the Civic Development would also give TWBC more room to address the concerns of residents.

What is the party’s position on the Civic Complex?

We oppose the £93m Civic Development. It has not been thought through and therefore fails to address the needs of the town. It is the wrong priority. It is a massive debt for a project which is the wrong place. The money could be better spent. The town does need investment but it needs to be the right kind - and not at the expense of public services and charity and community support groups’ funding. We think that the current plans are not fit for purpose and also question the proposed site because of traffic congestion and the impact that it will have on Calverley Park and Mount Pleasant Road.

What would you like to be seen done to enhance Tunbridge Wells centre?

We need a comprehensive plan for public buildings and to ensure that planning permission is granted to developments which enhance the town and are fit for purpose. We need to ensure that developers contribute to local services and provide affordable housing. We would like to see social housing as part of the mix. We would also like to work with businesses and developers to ensure the development of small and medium sized businesses and adequate office space in Tunbridge Wells. 

And what can be done about traffic in the town?

Contrary to what the Conservatives say, the answer is not building £18m of new car parks at Crescent road and in Calverley Grounds. Let’s talk specifics. Tunbridge Wells Liberal Democrats believe we have to encourage different modes of transport. We continue to campaign for increased cycle lanes, park & ride scheme and a pedestrian and bike friendly town centre. It is not rocket science - it just needs the political will to do it!

Finally, should a candidate live in the ward they represent?

All our councillors live in the wards they represent. Ideally, the candidate should have strong ties to the ward they represent. It means they have a vested interest to do the very best by their ward rather than just seek election to public office. Every resident will have the opportunity to vote Liberal Democrat in these elections.

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Rachel Sadler to Stand for the Lib Dems in Park

Rachel Sadler has lived in Tunbridge Wells for about 17 years. Rachel is passionate about politics- both local and national, and is standing for Park ward in May 2018. She is an experienced candidate and, most recently, increased the Lib Dem’s vote share in last year's general election. 
Rachel lives in Park, so understands the issues which need to be addressed. Her primary concern is the civic development. At least £77M of debt will be amassed in order to provide Tunbridge Wells with a new theatre and council offices. Rachel's particularly worried about the effects on local services. Cuts have already been made because of reductions to councils' funding.
This new development will only worsen the situation. 
It was revealed recently at a council meeting that the Citizens Advice Bureau in Tunbridge Wells is at risk as a result of this expensive project. Many rely on this important service, so it'd be a significant and concerning loss.
Rachel believes in equal opportunity for all. She is also a member of TW Women 100- an all-female community group in Tunbridge Wells, who are organising events for International Women’s Day on March 8.
If you are interested in helping Rachel with her Tunbridge Wells Borough Council election campaign, email her on rachelsadlertw@gmail.com or call 07832147557.
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Chris Hall to Run in Broadwater for Lib Dems

Chris Hall has lived in Tunbridge Wells for the past 18 years and has been resident in the ward since 2016.  He has two teenage children who go to school in the town and lives with his partner Carol.  He is a senior manager at AXA PPP Healthcare and has a wide ranging background in sales and business development.  Since becoming a Trustee at the Number One Community Trust he has taken on fundraising responsibilities for the community hall and residents. 

Chris was motivated to stand for election to bring about change to the way local government is done. He wants a council that listens and responds to the needs of local people which is one of the reasons he is calling for a referendum on the £93m proposal to build new council offices in Calverley Park. 

If you can help Chris with his campaign please contact him at broadwaterlibdems@gmail.com or 07847440433.  

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Alan Bullion to Run in Sherwood for the Lib Dems

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Alan Bullion has lived in the Sherwood ward where he is standing for the past 30 years. He works in London for Informa and commutes from High Brooms station, where he successfully campaigned for a second ticket machine. He is a former school governor and pupil of Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys, and is still chair of its Alumni society. Alan has long been active over local issues in the Oak Road area of Sherwood, such as defending the recreation and sports facilities against development. Alan also is a great believer in life-long learning, having done degrees with the Open University and Southampton as a mature student.

Please contact him at alan.bullion@informa.com or 07766968820 if you can help in any way with Liberal Democrat campaigns.

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Council Plays The Victim Instead of Acting

In local politics, it is tempting to feel powerless in the face of the big issues facing our society.

Brexit comes up a lot on the doorstep, and while I continue to believe that we are a stronger nation allied to the European Union than outside it, my role is to focus on what’s within our power to change as Councillors.

The Council often portrays itself as the victim of Government legislation, which obliges them to take certain decisions. Is there more they could be doing to challenge this situation? I am sure there is.

Take the current lack of affordable housing, for instance. The Government requires Councils to set targets for levels of affordable housing in new large scale developments. But in 2012 the law was changed to allow developers to avoid building affordable housing if this impacts on their 20% profit margin.

Developer viability assessments, which allow them to avoid providing affordable homes, are private documents. Councils can open these up to external examination, but Tunbridge Wells has not done this. So how many of the 108 flats proposed on the former cinema site are affordable? Not one.

Then there is the issue of vacant homes. A recent freedom of information request from the Lib Dems revealed that more than 11,000 homes across the country have been empty for longer than 10 years, and over 60,000 for more than 2 years. This includes 102 properties in Tunbridge Wells. Again, Councils have powers to take over properties which have been vacant for more than 2 years, but Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has not used these powers. At a time when people are sleeping rough on our streets, we have one hundred potential homes sitting empty.

And the Council is crying foul over Government rules introduced in 2013 which allow offices to be converted into residential without planning permission (via a process called permitted development). This has resulted in a lack of office space in our town, as offices are converted into lucrative residential flats.

What can Tunbridge Wells do? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot. Councils such as Merton and Sevenoaks passed Article 4 directions to restrict the ability of developers to automatically convert offices in certain areas. Tunbridge Wells has not.

Passive Councils deliver poor results for residents. It’s time we stopped playing the role of the victim, and started taking our destiny into our own hands.

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102 Houses Standing Empty in Tunbridge Wells


102 homes across the borough of Tunbridge Wells have been left empty for years.

14 homes in Tunbridge Wells have been sitting empty for 10 years or more, research by the Liberal Democrats has revealed.

The figures, uncovered through Freedom of Information requests, show that there are over 214,000 homes across the country that have been empty for six months or more. Of these, locally in Tunbridge Wells 102 had been empty for two years or more, 31 for five years or more, and 14 have stood empty for at least ten years.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) has failed to make use of Empty Dwelling Management Orders (EDMO), powers used by local authorities to take over properties that have been empty for at least two years. This is despite the fact that some local families have spent Christmas without a home.

Nationally only 19 of the 247 councils in England and Wales that responded (the powers do not apply in Scotland) had used an EDMO in the past five years. Of these only six had used one in the past year.

Liberal Democrat councillor, Ben Chapelard, leader of the Opposition on TWBC, said:

“At a time when the homelessness crisis is worsening and more and more people are sleeping out in the cold on our streets, it is a scandal that so many homes locally are sitting empty.

“These homes could be turned into affordable places to live for those that need it across Tunbridge Wells.

“The Government needs to urgently review the current system which is clearly not working and TWBC needs to be given the powers and resources to bring empty homes back into use.

"It is shameful that TWBC has failed to use its existing powers to end this scandal. Local families have spent Christmas homeless because of Conservative inaction and ineptitude."

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Civic Plans to Proceed - Can We Do Better?


If I were to give you £1,000 this Christmas, how would you spend it? This was the question facing us as Borough Councillors last Wednesday; whether to borrow £77m (the equivalent of over £1,000 per Council Tax payer) to invest in a new £93m theatre and council office development.

I love the unique culture of Tunbridge Wells, and firmly believe we should plan for the future of our town. But the mere fact of investing money does not mean that the investment is the right one.

There is scope in Tunbridge Wells to do something really exciting. We have enthusiastic, created, gifted residents. But is what’s been proposed to us the best we can do?

For example, we will be digging up part of Calverley Grounds in order to build a 250-space car park underneath, with a payback period of over 40 years! Even our own MP Greg Clark accepts that we will move towards autonomous, self-driving vehicles in the future. So why are we ripping up parks to build car parks?

As for the theatre, I am excited by the prospect of being able to watch West End shows in Tunbridge Wells. But again I would ask whether what’s being proposed is the best we can offer. The limitations of the site (Great Hall Car Park) mean access will be tight, especially for the touring HGV’s which need to access via Hoopers Car Park.

Looking at the Bridge Theatre in London, this came in at only £12m and has removable seats, allowing them to host conferences and flexible theatrical performances. Both of these could bring additional revenue and visitors to Tunbridge Wells.

My other main concern is that this development will be built on the backs of the poor. Among measures identified to pay for the borrowing (annual repayments of £2.3m a year) is the introduction of a flat £30 charge for garden waste collection, which will apply to all residents regardless of income.

More worryingly the Council proposes using £250k cuts to community groups to pay for the civic development loan. At a time when many are struggling to make ends meet and rough sleeping is on the rise, cuts to local charities and community groups like the Citizens Advice Bureau will have a savage impact on the neediest in our Borough. Perhaps the people of Tunbridge Wells recognise this better than their Conservative Councillors, which explains why every referendum carried out to date is against the scheme. We can do better, Tunbridge Wells.

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Civic Centre Plans Released

The Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has released a 300 page report on the plans for a new theatre and civic offices on the fringe of Calverley Grounds ahead of the vote at Full Council on 6th December on whether to proceed. If a majority of Councillors vote for the scheme to continue, it will proceed to planning stage, with plans to be submitted early in the new year. Full Council is a public meeting, so please attend if you are interested in the future of our town.

The report contained some significant information that Councillors have been asking for, such as the business plan for the theatre, and intended uses for the current Civic Complex. It also contained details of the savings the Council would need to make in order to repay the £77m loan which would be taken out. These include: Charging £30 for garden waste collection, £280k reduced funding to community groups and a saving from not replacing a Director position. Additional savings will need to be made for the Council to balance the books (2018/19 financial year currently has a £600k shortfall). 

Against a backdrop of massive cuts from Conservative central Government, Councils are being forced to run themselves as businesses, trying to use commercial schemes to balance the books. My question is whether or not the real owners of the ‘business’ - i.e. the people of Tunbridge Wells, the ratepayers - agree with our plans. 

Unfortunately, it seems that, with our call for a referendum being rejected by the Conservative led council, we may never know. 

Many residents have been in touch with us to register their support for a new theatre in the town to draw in local crowds and rival the West End. An equal number have raised concerns about the scale of borrowing involved, the impact on Calverley Grounds and the future intentions for the current Civic complex. I for one will be disappointed if those grand buildings are turned into commuter flats.

Ultimately this comes down to engagement with residents. There is a feeling that many have been told what the Council is planning to do, and asked fotheir views, rather than them being involved in the decision-making process.

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