Hear What Local Politicians Really Think!

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council elections take place on Thursday – and the podcast “West Kent Talking” has just been released containing frank interviews with leaders of the key parties to help voters make their choice.

The Liberal Democrats currently have effective control of most council decisions thanks to a coalition deal with the Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party and Labour.

The Lib Dems say their aim at this election is to win an overall majority to govern without the need for a coalition. But the result is highly unpredictable as all the ward boundaries have changed since last year’s vote.


It remains to be seen if Liberal Democrat support will be affected by the council’s decision to start charging for parking in Dunorlan Park, imposing sharp increases in general parking charges,  and for persisting with imposing fines on tens of thousands of confused motorists in the Town Centre.

If you want to hear the voices of representatives of all the key parties, then you can download the podcast West Kent Talking on the Apple phones podcast app, Spotify and Amazon. Here are the links:


Nick Pope of the Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party (pictured below) told me that being part of the Liberal Democrat-led coalition for the past two years has enabled the Alliance to “be in the room” when decisions were made.

Nick Pope crop

But Nick Pope says the coalition “has been uncomfortable for us at times” and he couldn’t say whether the party would go into a similar partnership again.

Nick Pope also said he was “very uncomfortable” with the huge number of fines being levied on confused motorists driving past the war memorial by the Town Hall.  He said he thought the council should have acted faster to sort out the issue.

Many people from outside the area have said they won’t return to the town after having drifted into the restricted area and being fined.  Nick Pope agreed that “it’s not good for Tunbridge Wells.”

Town Hall signs

Between 80 and 100 fines a day are still being issued to people who didn’t react fast enough to the blue signs shown above.  A year ago a thousand fines every day were being levied.

The total raised through fines is now £ 1.5 million, which is a huge sum compared to the £ 9 million raised in council tax.  An estimated 50,000 fines have been issued, which is roughly the same number as the total number of drivers in the whole Borough.

Nick Pope from the Alliance hopes to keep his current 20% of seats, telling West Kent Radio: “We are a local party. We’re not influenced by any national parties. We try to work for our local communities.”

Meanwhile, the man who led the Alliance a year ago, David Hayward (pictured below) is now running a new party, “Independents for Tunbridge Wells”.

Cllr Hayward v2

David Hayward said he was telling voters: “We are genuine independents.  You – the residents – are our boss. Nobody else.” The party has 17 candidates and is competing in all but one of the new wards.

David Hayward said his party is the only one still voting against the current Local Plan for housing.

Labour is one of the parties in the current ruling coalition. The leader of the Labour group, Hugo Pound, (pictured below) said successes for the coalition in the past two years include bringing the finances back into balance, taking full control of the RVP shopping centre and delivering a £100,000 annual fund to charities across the Borough.

Hugo Pound

Hugo Pound says the new Local Plan will be in place later this year “to ensure there are the right sorts of houses all over the Borough – many of which we hope to be affordable – and some of which will be for social rent.”

But Hugo Pound admitted that: “The developers at the moment have the upper hand.” And he said the council had no plots of land left available to use to build affordable council housing itself.

Hugo Pound says of the coalition: “It has been a genuine coalition of thought and action. I think the Labour group brings both heart and head to those discussions and decisions.”

Tom Dawlings (below) who’s leader of the Conservative group calls the record of the coalition “quite disappointing”.  He said they should have acted faster to rent out unused space in the Town Hall, which was a project the Conservatives had set up.

Cllr Dawlings 2

Tom Dawlings criticised the coalition’s increases in council parking fees, arguing the charges deterred people from coming to Tunbridge Wells at a time when businesses were struggling after covid.

Tom Dawlings also said the signs for motorists outside the Town Hall were confusing and argued the council should have acted faster.  He said: “It shouldn’t have taken £ 1.5 million in fines to decide the thing needed a review.”

The Chair of the Tunbridge Wells Green Party, Geoff Mason, (below) said the party was hoping to win its first seat on the Borough Council, following its success last year when it increased its vote share to 8%.

Geoff Mason

Geoff Mason said the Greens had been campaigning against the plan to build a new town on Green Belt land in Tudeley and it was “great news” when the council finally dropped the scheme in the past year.

Geoff Mason says other Green councils in control of towns like Norwich had been building new council houses to provide affordable sustainable homes, rather than leaving development to the private sector.

Surprisingly, the Liberal Democrats declined the opportunity to give a fresh interview.  The leader of the Liberal Democrats and the current leader of the council, Ben Chapelard, (below) had previously given several interviews to West Kent Talking.

Ben Chapelard

Speaking last May about the fines for motorists driving past the war memorial, Ben Chapelard said: “We believe it is the right thing to do. We think it (the signage) is clear. We are trying to improve the air quality in that pedestrian part of town.”

In a statement to West Kent Radio and the West Kent Talking podcast, Ben Chapelard said:

“The Lib Dems are campaigning hard in these local elections to win majority control of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. This is a change election. People are tired of the out-of-touch and incompetent Conservatives. They want to see change both nationally and here in Tunbridge Wells.”

The Liberal Democrat manifesto promises to:

  • Freeze car parking charges for 12 months;
  • Rejuvenate the town centre and improve the RVP;
  • Fight for the right infrastructure for development and more affordable homes;
  • Plant a tree for every resident;
  • Create new youth hubs across the borough.

The current make up of the council is
Liberal Democrats 17, Conservatives 11, Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party 9, Labour 7, Independents for Tunbridge Wells 2, Independents 2. (Total = 48)

All the new 39 seats are being contested this time.  Most residents get 3 votes in each ward. The candidate with the most votes gets a longer term before having to face re-election.

In the new Southborough and Bidborough ward there are 12 candidates. Residents have 3 votes.
3 LABOUR (Penny Breedon, John Francis, Alain Lewis)
3 CONSERVATIVE (Sarah Bridges, Peter Oakford, Alexander Puffette)
3 LIBERAL DEMOCRAT (Mark Ellis, Brendon Le Page, Joe Opara)
1 GREEN (Mark McBennett)

In the new High Brooms ward, there are 6 candidates. Residents have 1 vote.
GREEN (Paul Froome), LABOUR (Dianne Hill), LIBERAL DEMOCRAT (Steve Humphreys), INDEPENDENTS FOR TUNBRIDGE WELLS (David Kain), CONSERVATIVE (Freddie Mobbs), REFORM UK (Rick Williams)

The reason that High Brooms residents only have one vote is that the area returns one, rather than 3 councillors because its population size is just a third of the other ward areas in the Borough.

All the candidates in each ward are available here:


Southborough News