Borough Partnership Published

Today we are pleased to publish the Borough Partnership signed by the Liberal Democrats, Tunbridge Wells Alliance, the Labour Party and the Independent Member for Paddock Wood East.


Please see here:

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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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Partygate - Letter to Right Hon Greg Clark MP & Councillor Tom Dawlings

Yesterday, as Chair of Tunbridge Wells Liberal Democrats I wrote an open letter to The Right Hon Greg Clark MP, Conservative Member of Parliament for Tunbridge Wells and Councillor Tom Dawlings Conservative Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council asking two key questions

  1. If Ministers of the Crown are found to have broken the law, should they resign?

  2. If Ministers of the Crown mislead Parliament, should they resign?


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It's an exciting time to be a TW voter, says candidate Brendon Le Page

Originally from South Africa, Brendon and family have lived in Kent for 30 years, the past 8 in Southborough. After retiring as Head of Lambeth Music Service, Brendon now teaches Science at Knole Academy. Brendon is standing for the Liberal Democrats in Southborough North this May. In this column for this week's Times of Tunbridge Wells, he explains the importance of getting stuck in to local politics

To view my profile (with video and photos) CLICK HERE


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Open letter to Sean Holden about the Assembly Hall

Opera or Oligarchs? 

My open letter to Cllr Sean Holden on the cancellation of Madam Butterfly at the Assembly Hall Theatre

March 3, 2022.

By Mark Ellis Cllr representing St.John’s Ward

Over the past week since Putin's invasion, I am sure like many, my thoughts and prayers have been with the people of Ukraine and the ever-worsening disaster facing the people.

Unfortunately, in Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, Sean Holden, a Conservative councillor for Cranbrook & Benenden, focused on cancelling a production of the Russian State Opera that was due at the Assembly Hall Theatre.

Immediately after the invasion Amande Concerts Limited issued a letter condemning the violence in Ukraine and confirming it had no links to the Russian state and is a UK company. Amande Concerts Limited also said it supports groups not just from Russia, but all over eastern Europe - including Ukraine. Once the invasion started it immediately removed the branding. I wanted to provide Assembly Hall theatre staff with the opportunity to research the Amande claims and to see if it would separate itself from the war and explore using the production as a fundraiser to help Ukrainian refugees. 

However, Cllr Holden, took it upon himself to - in the council and in the press - to have this production cancelled, before the staff had the opportunity to research this claim.

My issue is that as a Conservative councillor, he is supporting a party that has received significant sums from Russians who would be regarded by many as oligarchs - some of them have close links to Putin. 

So it is hypocritical to jump the gun on the opera singers - this group is from Siberia - without calling out people who make significant donations to the Conservative Party - for what I can only assume will be access to senior members of the UK government.

As the show has been cancelled (please click here for the announcement), I felt it important to make people aware of the background and publish my response to Cllr Holden.

Now that the opera is cancelled I challenge Cllr Holden to continue his crusade and prove he is not a hypocrite by writing letters to his own party headquarters and Conservative MPs who have received donations from oligarchs.

Finally, because my intention is to help people in need due to Putin’s war, if you wish to make a donation to the British Red Cross Ukrainian Refugee Appeal (Please Click Here)


Dear Sean,

As you know, I wished the now de-branded Russian State Opera controversy to be turned into an opportunity for the artists to show their support for Ukrainian refugees and use this as a kickstart for Tunbridge Wells's efforts to help others. 

I, therefore, regret the cancellation of this production.

I agree with you that we all should make a stand against Putin’s invasion of a European democratic state. At the same time, I just wish we were all able to see beyond a passport and provide an opportunity for artists to speak out against Putin’s war.

Again I agree with your earlier comment: “Of course putting pressure on the Kremlin criminals in every way is important but the biggest pressure that can be laid on them is to turn their population against them,” and this would have been an opportunity to demonstrate that resolve.

This could have become an opportunity to do some fundraising for refugees.

I am also very much aware that my friends in Poland are working tirelessly to get together lorries of food, clothing, shelter and medicine for the wider humanitarian disaster that is approaching Ukraine and wish Tunbridge Wells to do the same.

However, as you have already stated you are not virtue signalling in your work to cancel this production, I have to accept your comments at face value and therefore request your help.

As a member of the Conservative and Unionist Party, I expect you have better connections to your central party than I do.

I would be grateful if you could send a letter on behalf of the Conservative group to encourage your party and many of its MPs to return recent donations by Russians, a number of whom have gained British passports and could be regarded as oligarchs. 

To help, I have provided a couple of examples.

Lubov Chernukhin

Since Mr Johnson became party leader in 2019, its largest donor has been the wife of a Russian financier Lubov Chernukhin, who has given £700,000 to party funds. 

The background of this person is highlighted on the following links and especially concerning based on the allegations made here about the husband's close ties to Putin’s oligarch friends.

Here is a link to her donations to the party together with several donations to Brandon Lewis MP, from the electoral commission’s site             

(please click here).

Dmitry Leus

Although not as large a donor to the party there has been recent controversy over his donation to Dominic Raab’s campaign.

As you can see from the following Daily Mail link Prince Charles' charitable foundation rejected a donation from this man.

Here is a link to his donations to the party from the electoral commission's site. 

(please click here). 

Here is a link to Dominic Raab’s register of interests.

(Please click here

In addition, I'd be grateful if you could write to the Prime Minister to request the Queen removes Evgeny Lebedev from the House of Lords.

This was a political appointment by Boris Johnson in 2020 to a man who is the son of a former KGB officer who became a billionaire shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Evgeny Lebedev owns the Evening Standard and a number of other media outlets so, in the light of your current efforts to cancel an opera, it may also be useful to request that sanctions should be applied to any former Russian citizens who have maintained non-domicile tax status after becoming British citizens.

I give Evgeny Lebedev some credit for the following article (please click here), however, but this is no different from the statement made by Amande concerts limited (see attached) who clarified and separated themselves from Putin’s war and therefore can be ignored for the same reason.

Finally I understand a number of Conservatives have decided to brand themselves as the “Conservative Friends of Russia” with events hosted by Daniel Kawczynski, Caroline Nokes, John Redwood and John Whittingdale I would also be grateful if you could ask questions of this group and their involvement in party funding. I understand that event attendees have included Carrie Johnson, the Conservative Party’s former head of communications and now the prime minister’s wife. (please click here)

I have only produced a few examples for you, however, I can produce more if you need help.

To end, as you felt it sufficiently important to approach local journalist Mary Harris (please click here) with your concerns over Amande concerts limited before the Assembly Hall Theatre staff had the opportunity to establish the facts, I have taken the opportunity to publish my response as an open letter in order for the public to further assist you in your efforts.

Kind regards

Mark Ellis

Liberal Democrat Cllr representing St. John’s Ward

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The Conservatives have failed to address the deficit and therefore we cannot support the budget.

Lib Dem Cllr Andrew Hickey responded to the budget at Full Council (23.2.22) on behalf of the Lib Dem group of councillors:

The Liberal Democrat Group would like to thank Councillor Dawlings and the officers for their hard work over the last year and for the preparation of the budget for the next fiscal year.


I spoke to the budget on behalf of the Liberal Democrat group in February last year.  Here are the closing remarks from that speech:  “..the predicted losses in the medium term financial strategy are concerning and appear to have no viable associated mitigation plan at the moment. We would like to see this proactively addressed by the administration...”


As planned we have had another year of deficit this year, albeit smaller than forecast, and this budget and medium term financial strategy predict a further deficit in 2022/2023 and a net cumulative deficit of over £20 million in the years to 2028.  Once again if unaddressed this deficit will leave the council in a marginal or unviable position by the end of the period. 

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