TWBC Leader Defends Fines for Driving Past Town Hall

The newly re-elected leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has said that air quality is improving in the town thanks to the controversial new traffic rules that have led to thousands of fines for local motorists.

Ben Chapelard from the Liberal Democrats said that the number of cars per day wrongly driving past the War Memorial outside the Town Hall had been cut significantly from 1,200 to 200 per day.

He said 80% of people who had previously used that part of Mount Pleasant Road from 9am to 6pm had stopped doing so and it was “the last 20% of people that were ignoring the warning signs”.

Sign crop

Thousands of people have been fined for using the route – many because they found the signs unclear. But Mr Chapelard (pictured below) argued that the scheme was working as part of the council’s policy to make towns more vibrant and safer for pedestrians.

Ben Chapelard

Several local newspapers have quoted a figure of £200,000 of fines being collected in just one month, but the council says this figure is wrong and does not necessarily mean the council is generating net revenue, as the costs of setting up the scheme still need to be covered.

In an interview for West Kent Radio, Mr Chapelard was asked if the distant blue circle sign with a white bus and white cycle was clear enough for residents heading south having approached from Dudley Road to react to in time – they need to turn left. (Junction shown below)

Town Hall

Mr Chapelard said: “We’ve asked Kent County Council, who are the highway authority to go back and double check the signage, but we think it is clear.” He said David Brazier, who is in charge of transport for Kent County Council, had just visited the scheme.

Mr Chapelard continued: “If people feel they have not been treated fairly by the system and they get a fine, there is in the process a right of appeal which the council staff will examine and determine. We are finding that there are still people going through there – despite having warning letters – and they are just trying their luck, and that is quite a big number of the people who are still going through, as I understand it.”

People crop

Another issue is that Google maps and other satnavs are still indicating that – even during the daytime – people should take the route that they will be fined for (see below).


Mr Chapelard said Google had been informed that the fines would be enforced in February.

Mr Chapelard concluded that: “Post-pandemic that bus lane is now being enforced for the good of residents.  We are trying to reduce the amount of cars that go through there every day. People are getting the message now.” 

Bus in Lane v2

In a statement, the council said: “From 20 Feb until 1 April, we issued over 18,000 warnings to motorists seen contravening the bus gate restriction.  After going to live PCNs on 1 April the number of drivers seen in the restriction has dropped considerably, so it is having the desired effect of making the town centre more pedestrian friendly. Whilst there is an income from the PCNs, we have to cover the implementation costs of the scheme, but if there is an eventual surplus generated, by law it can only be used to finance highway, transport and environmental investment.”

You can listen to Ben Chapelard’s interview on the Bus Lane Fines and the recent successes for the Liberal Democrats in the local elections on this YouTube link:

Meanwhile, just five years after the creation of the Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party, one of its councillors, Nick Pope, was elected Deputy Mayor last week (Wed 24th May 2023).

By tradition, next year Nick Pope will be the Mayor, giving him a potentially powerful casting vote after the May 2024 elections which will be an unpredictable “all-out” vote with all councillors up for re-election under new ward boundaries.

The Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party (TWA) was formed to oppose the then Conservative council’s plan to borrow £100 million to build a new theatre and Town Hall on Calverley Grounds. That plan was eventually defeated after £10 million had already been spent on it, when the Conservatives lost seats and several other Conservative councillors voted against the scheme.

This is my YouTube film of the speech proposing Mr Pope by the current Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party leader, Matthew Sankey, at the full council meeting last week.

Mr Sankey referered to Nick Pope’s role is setting up the Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party: “Nick opened the door to this chamber for those who do not have a political home in a traditional national sense…Nick is the perfect person to lead us by example in what is sure to be a very exciting time as we move from 48 to 39 councillors.”

Victory for High Brooms in Council Ward Battle

A campaign to prevent people in High Brooms having their votes subsumed into a proposed new Borough council ward area dominated by voters in Tunbridge Wells has been successful.

The initial proposals from the Local Government Boundary Commission had ignored the fact that the district of “Southborough and High Brooms” has historically been a separate town from Tunbridge Wells.

But after representations from many local groups, there will now be a one member Tunbridge Wells Borough Council ward for High Brooms only (area E below).  The area was originally going to be part of a Tunbridge Wells North ward, but now St John’s residents will have their own two member ward.

Wards Sboro

The boundaries for voting in the parish council elections every four years will also change.  The new names for the areas shown in the map above are:
D = Southborough East, E = Southborough High Brooms, F = Southborough North, G = Southborough West

The area of the town of Southborough and High Brooms not defined as “High Brooms” will be merged into the new Borough Council ward of “Southborough and Bidborough”. This ward is large enough to have 3 councillors, with voting for them taking place three years out of every 4 years.

The mayor of Southborough, Dianne Hill (below), welcomed the establishment of the High Brooms ward and the Local Government Electoral Commission’s change of heart.

Dianne Hill now

Dianne Hill said: “Brilliant news for High Brooms.  It keeps its identity and St Matt’s school and church are moved back into the same ward.”

The single exception to the overall 3 member plan for each ward was made for High Brooms because the commission said: “While we start our reviews with a presumption in favour of a uniform pattern of three-councillor wards when determining our warding pattern in authorities that elect by thirds, we were persuaded that there was overwhelming community identity evidence from a broad range of residents, community groups, councillors and stakeholders that justified separating the High Brooms area from the town of Tunbridge Wells. Accordingly, we are content to depart from a uniform pattern of three-councillor wards and create a single-councillor High Brooms ward.”

But other areas weren’t as successful in their representations to the Local Government Electoral Commission.  The area of Capel, which currently has its own councillor, is still to be merged into a large ward that includes Pembury.

Wards all West

The current councillor for Capel, Hugh Patterson, told Southborough News: “I was disappointed but not surprised. I think there’s a risk Capel residents will be much less effectively represented than they have been.”

There’s also concern that the rural areas to the east of the Borough now cover large geographical areas (see below), covering several different parish councils, which will take a lot of work for councillors to represent effectively.

Wards map TWBC

There will be 3 wards to the rural east of the Borough described as:
– Goudhurst, Lamberhurst and Horsmonden
– Cranbrook, Sissinghurst and Frittenden
– Hawkhurst, Sandhurst and Benenden

Many smaller wards would have been possible had the council decided in a recent vote to abandon “voting by thirds” and elect all the members of the council in a single vote (once every four years) as happens elsewhere in Kent.  But the Liberal Democrat leadership of the council and some Labour members rejected any such change.

Under the final proposals the Borough of Tunbridge Wells will be divided into 14 wards instead of the 20 that exist at the moment.  There will be 39 councillors, that’s 9 fewer than currently.

Projections are that the Borough’s total population will be 91,034 by the year 2028 (up from 85,271 now). This would mean each councillor representing an average of 2,334 people.

The reason for the shake up in the ward boundaries is to make each ward more equal in population to be fair to all voters and also to reduce the overall size and cost of the council.

Victory for Labour and Lib Dems in Southborough & High Brooms Area

The two Borough Council seats up for grabs in the Southborough area have been won by John Francis of Labour and Joe Opara of the Liberal Democrats.

Sixteen seats were being contested in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council of 48 seats. The results are unlikely to alter the leadership of the council overall, which is currently run by a coalition of Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party.


The new state of parties is:

Lib Dem go up from 15 to 17
Labour go up from 7 to 8
Tun Wells Alliance go up from 9 to 11
Cons drop from 13 to 11
and there’s one independent in Paddock Wood left (there were 4 independents before the vote).

In Southborough North, Joe Opara joins the council for the Lib Dems – the Lib Dem there who won 4 years ago, Trevor Poile is stepping down.

In Southborough and High Brooms, it was a Labour hold, with John Francis stepping into the seat previously won 4 years ago by Luke Everitt for Labour.

The local results were:
John Francis (Lab) 933
Misha Mitchem (Con) 305
Paul Johnson (TW Alliance) 169
Yvonne Raptis (Lib Dem) 165
David Holton (Green) 162

Joe Opara (Lib Dem) 619
Sarah Bridges (Con) 478
Jon Farina (TW Alliance) 163
Martin Betts (Lab) 143
Sue Lovell (Green) 73

Civic centre

On the Southborough and High Brooms Town Council, there will be 10 Labour, 5 Conservative and 2 Lib Dem councillors. One seat is vacant but another Labour or independent member is likely to be co-opted to bring the council to full strength.

Meanwhile in neighbouring Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council, the Conservatives lost overall control.  The results were Conservatives 20, Lib Dem 11, Green 8, Labour 3, Independent Alliance Kent 2. However, the Conservatives are believed to be talking to the two Independent Alliance councillors to make an agreement which would see the current Conservative leader of the council, Matt Boughton, remain as leader. (Update 13th May)

The Conservatives retained control of Sevenoaks. The result there was Conservatives 33, Lib Dems 14, Green 4, Independent 3.

Looking at a few Tunbridge Wells Borough Council seats in more detail:
In Speldhurst and Bidborough, Paul Curry triumphed for the Tunbridge Wells Alliance, holding onto a seat previously held by Lucy Willis for the Alliance in 2019.

In Sherwood, the cabinet member for housing and planning, Hugo Pound was victorious for Labour. And it was a clearer margin of 98 votes this time – Hugo Pound won by just 11 votes in 2019.

Marguerita Morton of the Lib Dems held onto her seat in St Johns.

In Culverden, David Osborne produced a Lib Dem gain from Independent.

In Park ward, Siobhan O’Connell returned the seat to the TWA – defeating Christian Atwood by 252 votes – he had previously defected from the Alliance to the Conservatives.

The Alliance councillors David Hayward in Pembury and Nancy Warne in Benenden and Cranbrook were re-elected to the same seats they won in 2019.

Paddock Wood West was a Lib Dem gain, with Mark Munday the new councillor – that seat was Conservative four years ago, though the Conservative Matt Bailey had become Independent. Meanwhile, Paddock Wood East saw the Independent, Rodney Atkins, returned.

Pantiles and St Marks was another win for the Lib Dem candidate, Pamela Wilkinson, who replaced the independent councillor Andrew Hickey who did not run again. Long standing former Conservative councillor David Scott did compete for that seat but he was defeated by 492 votes.

In Rusthall, Jayne Sharratt of Labour defeated the sitting Lib Dem councillor, Dave Funnell by 94 votes.

In Goudhurst and Lamberhurst, Alison Webster from TW Alliance was victorious – the seat was previously held by Linda Hall of the Conservatives.

But the Conservatives did hold onto 2 seats they were contesting. Andy Fairweather held onto his seat of Frittenden and Sissinghurst for the Conservatives. He won an impressive 67 per cent of the vote. And Godfrey Bland held onto his seat of Hawkhurst and Sandhurst for the Conservatives. He had a big majority of 509, taking 48% of the votes.

Council Voting on Thursday in Southborough

Voters in Southborough and High Brooms go to the Polls on Thursday with some Tunbridge Wells Borough Council seats and all the seats on Southborough Town Council up for grabs.

Town Hall crop

In the Southborough North Borough Council ward, the sitting Borough councillor Trevor Poile is standing down from one of the two seats in the ward. Last year the Liberal Democrat, Brendon Le Page was elected to the other seat with a majority of 26 votes over the Conservative.

This time there is a choice of 5 candidates to vote for on Thursday 4th May:

Labour: Martin Betts
Conservative: Sarah Bridges
Tunbridge Wells Alliance: Jon Farina
Green Party: Sue Lovell
Liberal Democrats: Joe Opara

If you want to hear what the five parties are proposing in the Borough, you can watch extended interviews with their representatives on the following YouTube links.  Part 1 has the views of the Conservative opposition leader, Tom Dawlings and the Liberal Democrat leader of the council, Ben Chapelard:

Part 2 has interviews with Hugo Pound from Labour, Lucy Willis from the Tunbridge Wells Alliance and Geoff Mason from the Green Party. The Green Party is standing in all Borough seats for the first time.

Meanwhile in the Southborough and High Brooms Borough Council ward, there are another 5 candidates for the vacant seat. Luke Everitt won for Labour with 50% of the vote four years ago but he is standing down. The other two councillors in the ward who don’t face a vote this time are Dianne Hill and Alain Lewis – both from Labour.

The choice of 5 candidates to vote for on Thursday 4th May in Southborough and High Brooms is:
Labour: John Francis
Green Party: David Holton
Tunbridge Wells Alliance: Paul Johnson
Conservative: Misha Mitchem
Liberal Democrat: Yvonne Raptis

Civic centre

Votes are taking place at the same time for the Southborough Town Council which owns Southborough Common and the Civic Centre (above). There are 18 Town Councillors. The Town Council wards are divided into 3 areas:

Southborough Town – West Ward has 5 seats but only 4 candidates were nominated.  So John Francis, Jason Reeves, Rick Stewart and Mandy Wharton have already been elected for Labour.

Southborough Town – North Ward has 8 candidates for 7 seats.  There are 6 Conservatives (Harry Allen, James Allen, Sarah Bridges, David Elliott, Ian Kinghorn and Olwyn Kinghorn). There are 2 Liberal Democrats (Joe Opara and Trevor Poile)

Southborough Town – East and High Brooms Ward has 9 candidates for 6 seats. There are 6 from Labour (Alan Bullion, Brian Dury, Spike Figgett, Dariel Francis, Dianne Hill and Alain Lewis).  There are 3 Conservative candidates (Nkem Ituludiegwu, Nasir Jamil and Saloni Shukla).

Meanwhile, in Tonbridge and Malling Borough, the Conservatives are fighting to keep control.  You can hear the arguments of the five parties there on this YouTube link:

Maypole Returns to Southborough

Hundreds of people joined in the Mayday Festival on the Southborough Cricket ground on Bank Holiday Monday, with the welcome return of children dancing around the Maypole.

Maypole children

It was the second Mayday Festival organised by Nell Price and the Southborough Street Community. Last year they revived the Maypole tradition in Southborough for the first time since the 1800s.

Maypole v3

This year saw the event expand in size with 50 stalls, a bouncy castle and many more people. The rain held off and there were even brief glimpses of sun.

Nell Price (pictured below) said: “We are the first people to put a Maypole here since the early 1800s when it was banned by the church that’s in front of me, but they are very relaxed now and they have allowed us to have a Maypole back on Southborough Common”.

Nell Maypole

The event saw the May Queen, Ladies in Waiting and a May King all recognised for their fine costumes and enthusiastic dancing.


You can hear more about the event, Southborough in Bloom and the history of the Maypole by clicking on this link to the Southborough News YouTube site.

You can see interviews with Nell Price, Rachel Gale of the Maypole Hire Company and Mandy Wharton of Southborough in Bloom. Plus local artists Kat Vezmar and Michelle Parfitt explain their work. Finally on the 9 minute film you can hear a song from The Chartham String Band.