Diana Blackwell Elected to Lead Southborough Society with Renewed Focus on Younger Members

The Southborough Society has chosen Diana Blackwell as its new Chair, after she impressed members with her recent work on modernising the Society’s website and social media offerings.

The Society held its Annual General Meeting last Thursday (23rd May), which ended with the election of Diana Blackwell (pictured below), who has spent the last two years as the Society’s Planning Officer.

Diana Blackwell

Diana Blackwell explained to members that the new instagram account she created has already attracted over 300 followers in less than six months. She has also designed promotional material and created a new website to engage with a younger residents, which complements the Society’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Diana Blackwell told the meeting her background was in art and education and she has taught photography at a local secondary school for the last ten years. She has also stepped in to the role of the Society’s School Liaison Officer.

She continued: “As Chair, I can offer an abundance of enthusiasm for progressing the Society. I think it is important that the Society also appeals to younger members to ensure the Society remains vibrant and engaged with different generations.”

Coat 1.jpg

The new website has a blog that currently features Southborough’s coat of arms including this image (above) from the hand painted sign that used to sit above the old Council office entrance.

Diana Blackwell set out her priorities: “Moving forward, I’d like the Society to become more active; campaigning for a greener town, preserving our town’s heritage and engaging more effectively with local schools; building on the foundations that the hard working committee have already laid.”

Diana Blackwell concluded: “I believe the Society has achieved a great deal in its almost fifty years, but I think now is the time to re-evaluate how we see the Society going forwards and what we can do to ensure the Society continues to grow, be outward looking and relevant for the future.”

Crop Decimus

The meeting had begun with a engaging talk about Decimus Burton called “The Listening Architect” by Paul Avis, of the Tunbridge Wells Civic Society, which detailed Decimus Burton’s work in Tunbridge Wells, Southborough and elsewhere.

Paul Avis stated that it could be argued that Decimus Burton’s success “lay in his humble approach to design – it is an approach that we are the richer for today….Some refused to compromise their approach to design, despite their clients’ needs and wishes. Decimus Burton, however, was somewhat unique in embracing different styles of architecture.”


The AGM heard that Southborough Society membership was static with 12 members departing and 11 joining, so the total membership stands at 318 members from 218 households, compared with 319 members from 217 households a year ago.

The Society also elected a new Treasurer.  Ian Kinghorn, who had been acting Chairman of the Society in recent months will remain on the Committee.  The Society is also strengthened with the return to the Committee of the experienced former Southborough Society Chair, Michael Howes.

The society’s new website is at:

The instagram account is:

The twitter account is:

The Facebook Account is:



Labour’s Alain Lewis is New Mayor of Southborough

Southborough Town Council met last week for the first time following May’s local elections and installed Cllr Alain Lewis from the Labour Party as the Town’s new Mayor and Chair of the Council.

Labour is now the largest single party on the Town Council, following the slump in support for the Conservatives as reported in the Southborough News article of May 3rd.

There are now 9 Labour, 6 Conservative and 3 Liberal Democrat members of the Town Council, which looks after local parks, Southborough Common and the cemetery. Planning and refuse are run by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. Schools and Roads are in the control of Kent County Council.

Cllr Lewis (pictured below) was previously Deputy Mayor 4 years ago.

Alain Lewis new

Cllr Lewis told the “mayor making” Council meeting on 21st May that democracy was thriving in Southborough. He said: “At the recent elections voters clearly signalled that they want a change in the in the way our Council is run and operates.”

Cllr Lewis continued: “My view is that we must respect what residents are telling us. We are the servants of the people we represent, not expect them to be servants of their town council.”

And the new Mayor called on the Conservative run Borough and County Councils, who  therefore have 2 of the 3 votes in the Southborough Hub Project Board, to cooperate with the Town Council. Cllr Lewis said: “They need to support this council and enable us to carry out our mandate, rather than blocking our ideas at the Hub Project Board”.

The current proposed ground floor layout of the Southborough Hub is shown below:

New ground floor Feb19 v2Cllr Lewis concluded: “We must regain the trust of people who live in the town. We must be more transparent in the way we do business. We must listen more. We must do more to involve people in decision making. We must communicate better.”

Cllr Lewis asked that councillors work together on the following five big issues:

(1) We need to make sure that our finances are straight. We want the business plan for the Hub, details of land sales, and an informed forecast the impact of these on our local council taxes over the next few years.

(2) We need to make sure the Hub is fit for purpose. Despite the background of dispute about our new civic buildings we need to look forward and ensure they will meet the needs of the people who will be using them.

(3) We need to do more encourage involvement and contribution. Businesses, voluntary organisations, faith groups and individuals have a lot to offer to preserve and improve our town. Let’s make use of them.

(4) We need to address people’s concerns about roads and transport. Many of these are difficult issues but we could make some further progress on road safety and better transport links.

(5) We need to make our town greener! Climate change will be biggest issue for us all in the decades to come. Let’s do all we can to make our green contribution. Let’s plant trees, grow wild flowers, campaign against litter and do our bit to reducing the use of plastic.

Cllr Dianne Hill (pictured below) was elected as Deputy Mayor. She emphasised that the council covered High Brooms which has always been a distinctive community with its own proud history linked to the old brick and gas works.

Di wins

Cllr Hill said: “It is a community that doesn’t have public transport links to Southborough and as a consequence can sometimes feel apart from what is going on in our town and our town centre.”

Cllr Hill concluded: “We need to move on from the divisions we have seen develop over the last few years. Working together we can begin to enjoy again our work on this council and do things that encourage a sense of pride and achievement in our community.”

Cllr Hill emphasised the environmental issues: “We sit in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the High Weald but at the same time we are choked by pollution and blighted by gridlocked traffic. As a town council we can play our own small part in starting to address some of these problems and I would like to see us setting ourselves a goal of becoming a green town.”

Meanwhile, David Elliot is the new leader of the Conservative Group on the Council and Ian Kinghorn is his Deputy. Mr Elliot told Southborough News he did not give a speech as he felt it was not appropriate. All of the Conservative Group voted to approve the election of Cllr Alain Lewis as Town Mayor.

Cllr Elliot said: “It will be interesting being part of the Opposition minority for a change. I can’t always be on the winning side!”

Trevor Poile is Back on Borough Council for Southborough After 12 Years Away

Liberal Democrat Trevor Poile has returned to the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council by defeating his Conservative opponent, Cllr David Elliott, in Southborough North.

Cllr Poile (pictured below) previously represented the same ward for 12 years between 1994 and 2007.  He told Southborough News: “This win is particularly special as I have come back as a Borough councillor for my home ward after 12 years.”


In the past decade, Cllr Poile has remained an active member of the Southborough Town Council.

He said: “I was not expecting to get over 50% of the votes, I’ll be honest. Clearly it was part of a trend across the Borough, but my win was much bigger than expected.”

Trevor Poile Lib Dem 691 53% Elected
David Elliott Cons 414 31% Not elected
Nicholas Blackwell Labour 135 10% Not elected
Stephen Lukacs UKIP 76 6% Not elected

Cllr Poile continued: “It is a fantastic result for me but it is also quite humbling that I have had that support. It is always hard work to win an election but the hard work really starts when you become elected.”

Meanwhile, his defeated opponent Conservative David Elliott, who had represented the Southborough North seat on TWBC for the past 12 years, told Southborough News he was disappointed with the result.

Cllr Elliott, who remains on the Southborough Town Council, said: “We felt that Southborough North was a fairly safe seat. In the 2015 election, I took 58% of the vote and as Conservatives we have tended to concentrate our efforts elsewhere and perhaps neglected the North Ward.”

David Elliott told Southborough News that he “would be back” and was proud of his achievements as a Borough Councillor. Cllr Elliott (pictured below) took early retirement aged 56 in the year before his election. He said: “Since my election in May 2007, I have been working full time supporting local residents in the North Ward.”

Elliott new2

Cllr Elliott was briefly mayor of both Tunbridge Wells Borough and Southborough Town, when his one year as mayor in Tunbridge Wells and two years as mayor of Southborough overlapped for 15 hours. He pointed to his success on the Town Council improving Southborough Common – working with the Kent High Weald Partnership – and said: “My main achievement is that I have contributed towards delivering the Southborough Hub.”

Cllr Elliott says he will continue to work for Southborough as membership secretary of the Southborough and High Brooms District Overseas Friendship Association and he is also looking forward to organising the Classic Car show for the Lions Gala Day at Meadow’s School on 23rd June.

Cllr Poile reflected on the dramatic day of council defeats for the Conservatives: “The feel at the count at the Town Hall reminded me of the time in 1990s, when the Lib Dems took control of the Borough Council.”

He continued: “It was a perfect storm for the Conservatives. They have clearly been punished for what they’ve been proposing in the centre of Tunbridge Wells.”  Full details of Thursday’s Borough and Town Council results are written up in two more blogs I have already published.

Meanwhile, Labour won the Southborough and High Brooms ward on the Borough Council.  The victor was Luke Everitt (below) who said he was “over the moon.”

Luke Everitt

Cllr Everitt told Southbrough News that he thought the planned theatre and council office complex in Calverley Grounds was not viable, as it would never have generated the ticketing revenue it needed.  Having spent recent weeks on the streets canvassing for votes, he said “I have yet to meet anyone in support of the Civic Centre scheme.”

Cllr Everitt, who is 32 and who formerly worked in the Council election team, said he thought the Tunbridge Wells council chamber had become an “echo chamber” without serious scrutiny of policies, but that there was now a clear mandate from voters for change.

Luke Everitt Labour 845 50% Elected
Alexis Bird Lib Dem 352 21% Not elected
Mark Puller Cons 309 18% Not elected
Christine Marshall UKIP 195 11% Not elected

Supporters of the Civic Centre project had pointed to the success of the Marlowe theatre in Canterbury (below) .  But Cllr Everitt pointed out the Marlowe had benefited from significant public investment in the past but had now left council control and become a trust, so – he said – “being lost to the public realm.”

Marlowe theatre

In the local votes a year ago, Conservative Joe Simmons (who voted against his own party’s Civic Centre plans) held onto his Borough Council seat for the Conservatives  with 51% of the vote in Southborough North. Meanwhile in the Southborough and High Brooms ward, Labour’s Alain Lewis was victorious with 62% of the vote.

Southborough has 2 Borough Councillors in North Ward and 3 in Southborough and High Brooms Ward, with Dianne Hill from Labour being the 3rd representing High Brooms.

Some of Labour’s Borough councillors are shown below celebrating Thursday’s results: Luke Everitt, Hugo Pound (in Sherwood), Dianne Hill and Alain Lewis.

Lab crop

Calverley Grounds £90 million Civic Project “Unlikely to Happen” After Slump in Conservative Vote

The plan by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to borrow £90million to build new council offices and theatre in the town is on the brink of collapse after a devastating set of local election results for the ruling Conservative Group.

The leader of the Borough Council, David Jukes, lost his seat of Speldhurst and Bidborough.  And the councillor who had been the driving force behind the project, Cllr Tracy Moore (pictured below) also lost her seat in Park Ward, with Conservative candidates there receiving only 20% of the vote.

Cllr-Tracy-Moore Crop

Both Cllr Jukes and Cllr Moore lost decisively to the Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party, which was formed predominantly to fight the scheme that would construct a 1,200 seat theatre to replace the Assembly Hall.

The TW Alliance says the cost of the interest payments on the borrowing needed to fund the project will mean continuing cuts to council services for everyone in the Borough, which stretches from Southborough and Paddock Wood in the north to Hawkhurst and Cranbrook in the south.

The TW Alliance won 5 new seats on Thursday in addition to the one seat secured last year by Cllr Nick Pope (pictured below) who told Southborough News he thought the Civic Centre scheme to be built on part of Calverley Grounds near the BBC studios now only had a “30 per cent” chance of going ahead.

Nick Pope crop

The new Borough Council will have 28 Conservatives and 20 opposition councillors. However, several of the Conservatives are opposed to their party’s scheme or have abstained on past votes, so it is no longer clear there is a majority in the council to go ahead with the new buildings.

Nick Pope said: “We would have been relatively happy with 3 seats, but to win 5 out of our 6 seats that we put candidates up for is extremely good. The losses for the Conservatives in Tunbridge Wells are much worse than across the country and that’s because of local issues.”

Asked if the TW Alliance support had benefited from the disarray in national politics, Nick Pope told me: “A few people brought up Brexit, but that’s something that we kept away from because it is not a local issue. Our candidates are a mix of for and against Brexit, but that’s not a local issue”.

image e crop

Nick Pope told Southborough News that feeling in the town against the Calverley Grounds project is very strong. He says there has been a “massive change” in the electoral map after two rounds of annual voting for the Borough Council. Just over a year ago the Conservatives had 90% of the seats – now they have just 58% (28 out of 48 seats).

It would take just 5 Conservatives to support any vote to ditch the scheme for it to be sunk. The Conservative group on the Borough Council will have to choose another leader in the coming days and decide on a new policy.

After his defeat, former TWBC leader David Jukes told the Daily Telegraph: “To say I’m disappointed is an understatement. We have lost some good councillors, and with so many long-term projects in front of us, I’m worried this will have a devastating effect on economic growth.”

TW Alliance’s Cllr Pope said he would like to think the Conservatives will change direction. He said: “If they don’t, it would be very foolish and they will probably find they have strong opposition from within the council and from residents for the next year and until the next election.” The next vote for another third of councillors at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council will be in May 2020.

Civic Centre 1

Cllr Pope continued: “It is highly likely that Hoopers and others will appeal against the Compulsory Purchase Order decision which has just been approved by the Planning Inspectorate.  It is highly unlikely that they will start to build this year because the appeals will probably delay that.”

Cllr Pope concluded the probability of the £90 million development happening  has dropped well below 50%. He said: “Politically they would be very foolish to push ahead with it. It is probably dropping to about 30%. There’s a good chance it will be stopped”.

Cllr Pope concluded that voters had become increasingly angry at the Conservative’s plans, concluding: “There’s a feeling that the town is looking shabby and people will be paying more for garden waste. They’ve been suffering from reduced services over the past decade and they can only see that getting worse if there’s a large loan to pay off.”

David Elliott (pictured below), who was among those Conservatives who lost his Borough seat in Thursday’s vote, told Southborough News it was up to the remaining Conservatives to decide what path to follow next. But he felt the Civic scheme was well advanced and could still start building work in the next year.

Elliot crop v2

Cllr Elliott expressed his continued support for the scheme as a long term investment.   He said: “I can understand people being concerned about borrowing a lot of money for the future but it has been done before when the existing Town Hall and Assembly Hall were built. The loan for that has only just been paid off.”

Cllr Nick Pope argued it wasn’t too late to abandon the scheme.  He said: “The money they have spent is the equivalent of just over two years of loan repayments so it is a lot of money but it is a lot less than the project would cost and we can be pretty certain the project is not going to be £94 million but well over £ 100 million.”

Back in November 2017, Southborough News interviewed the Conservative Tracy Moore about why she believed the new theatre and Council offices were vital for the future of Tunbridge Wells. You can listen to a recording of what she said by clicking here:

TWBC opposition now has 9 Liberal Democrats plus 6 for Tunbridge Wells Alliance, 4 for Labour and 1 Independent (who formerly was part of TW Alliance). Cllr Nick Blackwell (below) who leads the Labour group on Southborough Town Council called it a “seismic shock” for the Conservatives.


Cllr Blackwell said: “I can’t in my lifetime remember anything like this. For David Jukes to lose his seat in Speldhurst and Bidborough and for Tracey Moore to lose her seat in Park Ward, I don’t think anybody believed that would happen.”

Cllr Blackwell described the Conservative attitude locally as  “hubristic arrogance”. He said: “They will not listen to people and they plough on regardless and they don’t think they are accountable to the electorate”.

Cllr Blackwell concluded: “I would hope now people down at the Town Hall will realise that this (Civic development) is not viable. This is not going to happen. There isn’t the support in the Town. If they have got any sense this is the point where they take stock of where they are and rethink their position.”

In Tunbridge Wells Borough Council voting on Thursday:

Seats Won % of votes
Conservative 5 29%
Liberal Democrat 5 27%
TW Alliance 5 18%
Labour 2 12%
Independent 1 4%
UKIP 0 4%
Green Party 0 3%
Women’s Equality Party 0 2%

In nearby boroughs in Kent, the losses for the Conservatives were much less dramatic than in Tunbridge Wells. In Tonbridge and Malling, the Lib Dems won five seats, but the Tory council majority remains large. On TMBC, there are now 39 Conservatives against 15 from all opposition parties.

There was little change in Maidstone, where the Conservatives remain the largest party, but with no overall control, after losing one seat to Labour.

Here were some of the more dramatic results from wards around Tunbridge Wells on Thursday:

Lucinda Willis TW Alliance 1007 51% Elected
David Jukes Cons 613 31% Not elected
Iola Palmer-Stirling Lib Dem 351 18% Not elected
PARK WARD for 2 seats Votes Share of Vote
Christian Atwood TW Alliance 1125 24% Elected
Rebecca Bruneau TW Alliance 1088 23% Elected
Tracy Moore Cons 539 11% Not elected
Rachel Sadler Lib Dem 486 10% Not elected
Gillian Douglass Lib Dem 482 10% Not elected
Victoria White Cons 437 9% Not elected
Linda Jagger Labour 211 4% Not elected
Victor Webb Independent 211 4% Not elected
Michael Jerrom UKIP 128 3% Not elected

In St John’s Ward there was a heavy defeat for the Conservative Tunbridge Wells Borough Councillor and Deputy Leader of Kent County Council, Peter Oakford.  Mr Oakford (pictured below) lives in Pennington Road in Southborough.

Peter-Oakford crop

ST JOHN’S WARD Votes Share of Vote
Marguerita Morton Lib Dem 1165 59% Elected
Peter Oakford Cons 347 18% Not elected
Benjamin Phillips Green 174 9% Not elected
Louise Reid Labour 154 8% Not elected
Robert Horan UKIP 125 6% Not elected

More results at:





Conservatives Defeated Heavily on Town Council but “too late” to stop Hub

There has been a heavy defeat for the Conservatives on Southborough Town Council, putting Labour in charge of the new council with support from Liberal Democrats. But it seems to be too late to make any major changes to the Southborough Hub plans.

Labour’s Nick Blackwell (below) told Southborough News that he was overwhelmed by the turnout and wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who came out to vote.

Cllr Blackwell said: “We knew there was a lot of resentment about the way the Hub project had been conducted and the secrecy and arrogance of the previous Tory Council.  But it was really heartening to see that transfer into votes and seats on the Council.”


There is formally “no overall control” on the Town Council, with Labour becoming the largest party with 9 seats, the Conservatives will have 6 and the Liberal Democrats 3 seats.

Cllr Blackwell continued: “Going forward, what we are really keen to do is to open up and have a dialogue with people in the town and be transparent about the finances and I look forward to working with our colleagues in the Liberal Democrats to make sure that happens.”

Cllr Blackwell said people he spoke to on the doorstep were overwhelmingly voting on local issues, with many lifelong Conservatives unhappy with the planned Southborough Hub (shown below) and the Civic Project in Tunbridge Wells.

Nov18 Hub Air

Cllr Blackwell continued: “We did have a few people who were appalled at the way that Greg Clark has – in their words – betrayed them over Brexit and I think for a few Tory voters that was their reason to stay at home, although the vote as a whole was what we’d expect for a local election at this stage.”

The mayor of Southborough is now certain to be a Labour councillor, who will be elected at the first meeting of the new council on Tuesday 21st May.

The council will then choose a new “Hub lead” to replace the Conservative’s Ian Kinghorn.  However, the Conservatives will retain control of the 3 person Hub project as they still hold the other 2 places on the Southborough Hub project board, due to the Conservative majorities on the Tunbridge Wells Borough and Kent County Councils.

There seems no chance of any significant changes to the Hub scheme. Cllr David Elliott of the Conservatives, who stays on the Town Council, confirmed to Southborough News that all contracts were signed in March to progress with the building of the Hub.

Cllr Elliott said: “Although the Labour group may well be in control, they can’t stop it now. Even if Southborough Town Council votes against anything they are outnumbered by the other two (councils).”

Hub Nov18 Library

And Labour’s Cllr Blackwell said: “There is limited scope to change what has already been signed off.  All of the legal contracts have been signed with the various parties and the finances agreed, so a lot of the wheels are already in motion. The NHS funding has all been signed off.”

The cladding is not finally decided while Cllr Blackwell also thought there could be a revision to the current plan that the Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall would run the Hub’s Hall with none of any profits going to Southborough Town Council.

The cladding planned for the Hub is apparently concrete that is digitally printed to look like terracotta stone, which still needs to be approved by Tunbridge Wells Planning.

Cllr David Elliott said: “We are handing over the Town Council in a very healthy financial state compared to what it was four years ago. We would liked to have retained control of the Town Council but it is not to be. We had all the important votes in March to enable the project to go ahead but I have to say I am rather disappointed.”

Cllr Elliott continued: “I fully understand why people wanted to retain the Royal Victoria Hall, but once the decision had been made and it had been demolished, why have the opposition parties continued to vote against everything we’ve tried to do?  Why can’t we all work together?”

Old Council New Council
North Ward – Cons 6 4
North Ward – Lib Dems 1 3
West Ward – Cons 1 0
West Ward – Labour 4 5
East+HB Ward – Cons 4 2
East +HB Ward – Labour 2 4
TOTAL STC – Cons 11 6
TOTAL STC – Labour 6 9
TOTAL STC – Lib Dems 1 3

In Southborough North ward, where 7 councillors are elected, only 10 people stood for election.  The 3 Liberal Democrats were significantly more popular than the 7 Conservatives, suggesting more Conservatives may have been defeated had the Lib Dems managed to find more than 3 candidates willing to stand.  The 4 Conservatives were effectively elected “by default.”

Here are the May 2019 Town Council election results in full.

TOWN COUNCIL – North Ward elects 7
POILE Trevor Lib Dem 922 Elected
PRANCE Jacqueline Lib Dem 694 Elected
BULLION Alan Lib Dem 631 Elected
ELLIOTT David Cons 477 Elected
KINGHORN Ian Cons 390 Elected
HARRIS Phil Cons 381 Elected
KINGHORN Olwyn Cons 367 Elected
JAMIL Nasir Cons 317 Not elected
WEATHERLY Lynne Cons 306 Not elected
UDDIN Mo Cons 265 Not elected

Below are pictured the three Lib Dems representing North Ward on the Town Council: Trevor Poile, Jackie Prance and Alan Bullion.

Lib Dem

TOWN COUNCIL – West Ward elects 5
BLACKWELL Nicholas Labour 408 Elected
EVANS Peter Labour 383 Elected
MUNN Graham Labour 380 Elected
WHARTON Mandy Labour 364 Elected
CLAY Martin Labour 345 Elected
BIRD Alexis Lib Dem 213 Not elected
MARKWELL Leah Cons 159 Not elected
OAKFORD Peter Cons 133 Not elected
MARKWELL Toby Cons 127 Not elected
BAILEY Matthew Cons 115 Not elected
ELDRIDGE Jon Cons 106 Not elected


TOWN COUNCIL – East & High Brooms elects 6
HILL Dianne Labour 681 Elected
LANE Yvonne Labour 603 Elected
FRANCIS Dariel Elizabeth Labour 584 Elected
LEWIS Alain Labour 563 Elected
LEWIS-GREY Alexander Cons 248 Elected
BACKHOUSE Bob Cons 245 Elected
CAMP Christopher Cons 231 Not elected
PULLER Max Cons 225 Not elected
SCOTT David Cons 224 Not elected
FARTHING Steven Cons 201 Not elected