Panto Returns to Southborough Today

The panto “Dick Whittington’s Adventures in Southborough” opens tonight in the new Southborough Football Pavillion promising fun for all ages.

Starring Emily Cooper (pictured below) as Dick Whittington, it runs for 3 days starting on Friday 13 January with 5 performances including matinees at Noon on Saturday and Sunday.

Panto Dick W

Dick Whittington travels “all the way from Tonbridge to Southborough because I thought the streets were paved with gold.”

Martin Collis (below), who plays Thomas the cat, says it is the tenth pantomime he’s performed in.  He says: “I am the hero of this story because I slay the rats.”

Panto Cat 2

Tickets can be booked through The Friday evening opening performance is at 7pm, while  Saturday and Sunday evening shows are at 5pm.

The rats are played by Harrison Wheeler, Lea Lowe and Jacob Murray (all below).

Panto Rats

Meanwhile Oscar Collis (below) plays the Mayor of Southborough.

Panto Mayor

And Rosie Mellerick (below) is Fanny Fitzwarren.Panto Fanny

Last year’s Southborough panto was held at the new Southborough Civic Centre, which replaced the Royal Victoria Hall – home of theatre and panto for the town for the previous hundred years.

The panto director and producer, Nell Price (below) told Southborough News she was disappointed that – this year – they hadn’t been able to return to the much larger new hall in Southborough Civic Centre.

Panto Nell

Nell Price said: “We absolutely loved having our panto in the Civic Centre last year – but unfortunately this year we couldn’t come to an agreement with Southborough Town Council for being able to use the space in a long term plan.  We just can’t afford to hire it at the cost it is at the moment.”

Nell Price explained: “We are a Community Pantomime. We don’t charge “show fees”. We try to make it as inclusive as possible, so everybody can take part, so they are not excluded because they can’t afford it.”

Actors – and parents of child actors – often pay “show fees” to productions for the privilege of being in the show.  Without such fees, it means there are no initial funds for the production to pay advance booking fees to the Town Council.

Panto promo

Nell Price says: “Luckily we have got the Tunbridge Wells Youth Football club that have very kindly allowed us to use their pavilion, so long may it be in Southborough.”  The Football Club are not charging the panto for hire of their hall, but the club will benefit from increased bar and snack sales.

Last year, Southborough Town Council let the panto use the Civic Centre space for free.  Nell Price says the deal that the panto offered the Council was that any profit they made (including profits on a bar and refreshments) would go to the Town Council.

At the previous location of the Angel Centre, the panto had built up a big following and made a profit of several thousand pounds.  Nell Price argues that would actually be a larger return in the long run for the Town Council than the fixed hire fee they wanted up front.  But her arguments only managed to persuade a couple of members of the Town Council and the plan was rejected.

The current annual losses of running the new Southborough Civic Centre are funded by the council tax payers of Southborough. But the council says in the next year the Civic Centre’s facilities will be radically improved by a bar and a cinema screen, which should bring in increased revenue.

Queen Jokingly Advised Kent Resident: “You Jolly Well Better Behave!”

Poignant tributes to the late Queen Elizabeth II from three Tunbridge Wells residents have been published on my new podcast, West Kent Talking.

Royal visit to Scotland - Day 4
Photo above is from Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations: PRESS ASSOCIATION / Danny Lawson.

The three interviews were with the Mayors of Southborough and Tunbridge Wells and a former magistrate, Peter Blackwell. They were recorded for West Kent Radio in the days following the monarch’s death in September.

Peter Blackwell (pictured below with hat and medal) was born in Tunbridge Wells in 1944 and worked as a local telephone engineer.


Peter Blackwell became a magistrate in Tunbridge Wells in 1971, before giving decades of service on the bench, which led to a memorable conversation with the Queen in 2006. He recounted how the Queen jokingly advised him to behave himself.

On the podcast you can also listen to the Mayor of Tunbridge Wells, Godfrey Bland, who was one of the first people to see the new Queen Elizabeth in Kenya in 1952. Plus the Mayor of Southborough, Dianne Hill, talks about how the Queen helped lift women’s status in British society.

The podcast also replays the official Proclamation ceremony held in Tunbridge Wells on 11th September 2022 – spectators shown below.

Ceremony 2

You can listen to the podcast on this link.

Earlier podcasts contained:
Episode 1: Organic Apple production in West Kent plus 5 other items
Episode 2: Controversy over house building plans on green fields in Capel
Episode 3: Greg Clark MP talks about why he went into politics and current issues

This is the video link to the Proclamation ceremony in Tunbridge Wells held on 11th September.

And here are the links to the earlier podcasts:

MP calls SE Water’s Crisis Planning “Bad” and “Chaotic”

With thousands of people in the Tunbridge Wells area still without running water, the local MP Greg Clark (below) issued a new statement on Wednesday about what he called “the ongoing appalling situation with South East Water”.

Greg Clark crop

Greg Clark’s statement on Wednesday reads:

“The handling of the situation by South East Water has been, and continues to be, unacceptably bad and in some instances chaotic.

I have spoken with the Minister for Water, Rebecca Pow MP, and asked for the Government to intervene with South East Water to inject better capability from other companies and from the Department to handle and resolve the situation here.

I have also spoken to Roger Gough, the Leader of Kent County Council, to ask that their experience of emergency responses is made available to be used in this incident.

Neither should be necessary. In my view, a company providing an essential service – and there is none so essential as providing running water to people – should have well-designed and well-rehearsed plans for when things go wrong, including leadership, operations and communications. South East Water has shown itself to be deficient in all of these.

SE Water

I want to address two problems in particular in this update: the supply of water itself, and the arrangements for bottled water to be supplied to people without tap water.

I have spoken every day with the Chief Executive of South East Water, David Hinton. I wish I could tell you that I am confident that reliable supplies will be resumed imminently, but I’m afraid I can’t.

In my last email (see below) I described the basic engineering problems, so I won’t repeat that here – it still applies, and the reservoir at Blackhurst Lane is too low to supply all households adequately.

There is some good news since my email on Monday, in that the Tonbridge Water Treatment works – which was flooded last month and supplies the Blackhurst Lane reservoir – has passed the tests of water quality and is, as of last night, pumping water to Tunbridge Wells.  However, South East Water told me yesterday that there are still major unexplained losses of water. They assume this is from a number of big leaks somewhere on the network that they have not been able to find, probably resulting from frozen pipes last week. That means that there is as much water leaving the reservoir as filling it, so that the problem of supply persists. This is a depressing conclusion, which means there is no end in sight, but I don’t want to hide from you my own assessment from these calls.

This means that the need to get bottled water to everyone affected is especially important. Frankly, yesterday was farcical on that. The Tesco Pembury site was overwhelmed – not surprising since South East Water had only one other site open (in East Grinstead) covering Kent and Sussex, many areas of which were affected. The water ran out, and the carpark was gridlocked. Tesco then – understandably – said that the disruption to their business was intolerable and things needed to improve. Very kindly they have agreed to let their carpark to continue to be used, and supplies were finally delivered at 11.45pm last night.

As you know, I have been pressing for another site closer to the centre of Tunbridge Wells to be made available for those without transport to Pembury.

Finally a site was opened at the Salvation Army in Bayhall Road last night. I’m very grateful to the Tunbridge Wells Salvation Army for allowing this, and for the efforts of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council Chief Executive William Benson, who has been working flat out, including very late last night, on helping with the supply of bottled water. I also discussed with William Benson providing facilities for people to shower and he has kindly agreed to look at opening the St John’s Leisure Centre for this later today.

It is important to note that for bottled water priority services are available for the vulnerable or disabled, as well as those with children under 5. You can sign up here.

As I said at the top of this email, all of this paints a picture of a company that I don’t feel can be trusted to get the basics right in responding to this emergency, which is why I have asked for outside help from the Minister and – through the Government and Kent County Council – from other bodies with relevant experience.

I know how big an impact this is having on everyone, at a time of the year in which people were hoping to enjoy themselves.

I have told the South East Water Chief Executive – and I will be speaking to him again this afternoon – that I expect compensation to be paid quickly and straightforwardly, and there needs to be a robust plan implemented to make the system robust against this in the months ahead, as well as in the long term.

But I realise that compensation and future resilience don’t solve what is an emergency right now, and I will not let up in doing everything I can to try to get it resolved.”

Greg Clark statement from Monday 19 December:

It might be of interest to know what I understand from my conversation with the Chief Executive to be the basic engineering of the current disruption, since I don’t think it has been clearly explained.

The underground reservoir which serves part of Tunbridge Wells – on the corner of the Pembury Road and Blackhurst Lane – has only around 20 to 25% of its capacity filled with treated drinking water, when it should be between 75% and 90%.

It fell to such a low level because it was not refilled when the floods last month took out the water treatment works at Groombridge and Tonbridge, which supply the reservoir. At this level, most properties which are below the level of the reservoir – and are therefore supplied by the force of gravity – can still receive water supplies. But in areas above the height of the reservoir, water needs to be pumped to them and the intake for this is at the level of around 20% capacity in the reservoir. Therefore every time the water level drops below 20% these properties – about 3,000 of them – are cut off. When the reservoir refills – usually overnight when demand for water is lower – the supply comes back on when it reaches the 20% mark. This is why the supply has been intermittent for days.

To make water supply robust requires the reservoir to be fuller than 20%. The combination of leaks from burst pipes (increasing flows out of the reservoir) and the Tonbridge water treatment works being broken (decreasing flows in) has meant that the Blackhurst Lane reservoir is not filling up to stop the cuts to supplies to homes. However treatment works at Pembury and Bewl are supplying the reservoir with water and water tankers have been delivering additional supplies.

I was told that there is some positive news in that the Tonbridge works is expected to be repaired and functioning tomorrow, but that there are more burst pipes being discovered as the thaw has taken place.

This is South East Water’s explanation as I have understood it, though I am not an engineer. However, in my view it does not excuse in any way the fact that the system is so lacking in resilience as to have caused misery for so many people.

I raised the issue of Tesco at Pembury being inaccessible to anyone without a car. The Chief Executive agreed that anyone without transport would be able to have it delivered to their door. The number to call to arrange this is 0333 000 2468.

I also emphasised that compensation must be paid to everyone affected, without fuss and without hiding behind any contractual small print.

I will keep up the pressure every day until this is resolved and, once it is, hold to account those responsible for the inadequacy of the resilience of the network here in our area. As I mentioned in an earlier email, I have applied for a debate on the floor of the House of Commons early in the New Year on the subject of ‘The Performance of South East Water’.

Pictures of the Snowy Hilly Fields

The wintry scenes were spectacular on the footpath down the “Hilly Fields” from Pennington Road during the week of snow on the ground which ended abruptly with the big thaw on Monday.

Most stunning were the frosted glass-like shards and crystals on top of the snow.  The pictures don’t capture the full beauty of the landscape, but here are some of my photos anyway for those that want to remember the big freeze of December 2022.














December Snow Blankets Southborough

Sunday night’s first snowfall of the winter left a covering of several inches in Southborough.

It led to long delays for people stuck on slippery roads overnight, but there were splendid snowy scenes to enjoy on Monday on Southborough Common morning despite the cloudy skies.  A selection of what I saw is shown below.













DSC00723 2





No more significant snow appears to be currently forecast.  But the weather is set to stay cold for another week, with temperatures of  minus 4 overnight – and rising to only one or two degrees centigrade above freezing during the day. By next Sunday 18th December, much milder weather is predicted to return.

Greg Clark to Contest Next General Election

Greg Clark has confirmed that he will be standing again at the next General Election in the Tunbridge Wells seat that includes Southborough that he has represented since 2005.

Greg Clark 2

He was speaking on my West Kent Talking Podcast in which we discussed a big range of topics – from building on green belt land, climate change and the cost of living to a private members bill he’s put forward in parliament on harassment of women in public places.

I also asked what it was like to be in a cabinet meeting chaired by Boris Johnson.  We started with how Greg Clark got drawn into politics. 

Brooklands School in Pennington Road

A reader of Southborough News has highlighted the importance of Brooklands School in the rich history of Pennington Road.

The school was in Doon Brae – a large house (rear of it pictured below) which was demolished in the 1970s to make way for the new Doon Brae close and the current 13 and 15 Pennington Road.

Brooklands Hse

Brooklands School in Pennington Road was run by a lady called May Jones (pictured below), who originally came from Wales.

May Jones

Thanks to another blog reader, who read the first edition of this post, I’ve now been supplied with a front view of the magnificent house.

Brooklands Front

The blog reader who got in contact and provided most of this information is Linda Williams (pictured below in her uniform). Children wore red caps or red berets.

1956 Linda at Brooklands

Brooklands Linda1

Linda Williams attended the private school from when she was 4 years old in 1955. She tells me: “My Aunt May Jones owned a huge house there. The first two floors were the school classrooms. The basement was our dining room. From the first floor, behind a door, a very steep staircase, almost a ladder, led to Aunty May’s flat. The garden had a large, cross shaped goldfish pond.”

The school sounds pretty academic and apparently the children there told people that the “B” on the logo stood for “Best”, when in fact it just stood for “Brooklands.”

Brooklands B

Linda describes how Pennington Road witnessed a daily procession of children sporting their uniforms walking to and from the bus stop on the main road every day.

Linda tells me: “It was beyond the stile, on the same side of the road. Children walked from the bus stop at the Fountain down Pennington Rd, to school in the morning. I suppose we walked back, in the same crocodile, in the evening, but I can’t remember that. The house was red brick.”

Linda continues: “My aunt, May Jones, was Welsh.  May was my Godmother, not a real Aunt.  I was happy there.  My first school. Red berets, gaberdine macs, crocodiles, nature walks.” This photo below is apparently from 1969. 1969 Brooklands

Linda writes: “The lawn here is where we ran our egg and spoon races. The terrace garden there was where I once got into trouble! It used to be just a flower garden with large stones in. I told my friends because Miss Jones was my aunt, I was allowed on this bit of garden. I walked on it and of course, I was not allowed there!  The long lawn led down in tiers to the fishpond.”

A search of the archive of the Kent and Sussex Courier from 4 March 1949, reveals the following advert.

Brooklands Ad 1949

The 1939 register shows that the house name Doon Brae pre-dates the school.  At the start of the war the old house had 7 residents including some called Dowson and some called Bird. (see below)

Doon Brae 1939

The move of the school to Doon Brae presumably followed the sale of the home by the Dowsons after the death of Leonard Joseph Dowson (a retired draper and owner of the Bon-Marche store) in 1948 – see below:Brooklands Dowson

An earlier notice recorded the death in December 1944 of Leonard’s wife Lizzie Gladys, who was “beloved wife and mother to [actually aunt of]  the Twins Mary and Diana Thomson.” In September 1948, Diana Thomson married Colin S Young. So Doon Brae was now empty…to be sold to Brooklands School owner May Jones.

The picture below from 1948 shows May Jones seated next to a lady called Thelma – a teacher who clearly loved working there.  21 years later in 1969 Thelma apparently is the same teacher pictured in the colour photo with the children shown above.

1948 Thelma & Auntie May Jones, Brooklands School

I found this article below in the Kent and Sussex Courier from 27 July 1973, which records the sad end of the Brooklands School and the demolition of the fine brick building in the days before the Southborough Conservation Area was created.

The Courier article records that: “Miss Jones’s enthusiastic endeavours quickly acquired such a reputation in local scholastic circles that soon there was a waiting list of parents eager to enter their children for the school.”

Brooklands closes

The article continues with a tribute from J.K. Ward of 2 Oak End Close: “The last red caps and red berets have now disappeared up Pennington Road and the last ark has gone up to the fountain, but memories of Brooklands will go on in the lives of we who had the happy experience of passing through these gates.”

J.K. Ward concludes: “Brooklands may soon be joining those other ghosts of the past, but I for one, will never be able to pass that old dignified red brick Victorian building…without hearing the ghostly ringing of the bell and Miss Jones’s sharp Welsh accent, wisely and firmly correcting my misdemeanours.”

I sent the Courier article to Linda Williams and she responded: “How beautiful that article was, mentioning the Fountain, the ark (crocodile actually!) So much verifying my long ago memories.”

Since my first article on Pennington Road, I have also been sent several historic photos of the road.  The first was of this house “Brampton”, which was also apparently another school and stood on the westerly corner of Pennington Road and Argyle Road – taken from Argyle Road. It occupied the space of the current numbers 19, 21, 23 and 25 Pennington Road.Brampton, Pennington Road

The picture above of “Brampton” was sent to me by Wendy Stacey (nee Massy Collier). She tells me: “I was baptised at St Thomas Church in 1944. My paternal great grandfather lived at ‘Fairlight’, 19 Pennington Road from about 1912 until he died in December 1918.  My paternal grandfather (Cecil Massy Collier) inherited the house and renamed it ‘Brampton’…. My grandfather was a school master and the house was where he taught and also were the pupils lived. By 1939 my grandfather had moved to 1 Yew Tree Road, where he remained until he died in early 1952.”

Here is another view from the other side of the house:

Brampton side view

Wendy Stacey tells me Cecil Massy Collier: “was always a school teacher. He was a specialist in the cure of stammering, studying under Benjamin Beasley (the grandfather of his wife to be) at Brampton Park in Huntingdon. He later moved to Hunstanton where started his own school for stammerers, all of whom were residents in his household. The move to Southborough meant a larger house with more room for his resident pupils, some of whom came from other countries.”

The final photo I have acquired is of a house fortunately still standing, albeit with a mysteriously reduced height of its tower.  One report – not entirely believable – is that the tower was reduced in size to prevent it being spotted by enemy planes in the Second World War and used as a directional tool.

Ferndale crop

This house is called Ferndale and is still to be found at the very end of Argyle Road. You get a view of it from the footpath that runs to the end of Pennington Road.

Do you have any more historic photographs of properties along Pennington Road?  Then do send them to so I can record our rich history for posterity.

Meanwhile, if you want a feel for 1960s Southborough, do take a look at this YouTube film:

Lib Dem Win in Southborough North as Conservative Vote Crumbles in Tunbridge Wells

The Conservatives had a dismal day in the local council elections across the Tunbridge Wells Borough and Southborough was no exception.

The existing councillor for the Southborough North seat, Conservative Joe Simmons, was defeated by 24 votes.

The opposition parties are likely to form a new administration in Tunbridge Wells Borough to replace the Conservatives with the Conservative leader of the council offering to resign. Previously the Conservatives had stayed in key Borough council positions, even though they lost overall control at last year’s council elections.

The Conservatives have now lost both the Southborough North seats with Brendon Le Page (pictured below) taking the second seat for the Liberal Democrats after counting on Friday morning.

Brendon Le Page 2

Although the Conservative’s Joe Simmons came out second, he fought a hard campaign with his count only reduced by 10 votes from when he was elected four years ago (see comparison below). However, the Liberal Democrats mobilised new support impressively, increasing their vote tally by 78 per cent.

VOTE 2022    
Brendon Le Page Lib Dem 630 44%
Joe Simmons Con 604 42%
John Francis Lab 203 14%

The vote figures four years ago were:

VOTE 2018    
Joe Simmons Con 614 51%
Trevor Poile Lib Dem 354 29%
Martin Betts Lab 247 20%

The Southborough Town Council area is divided into two sections for the Borough election.  The other half of the town also voted, where Labour’s Alain Lewis (pictured below) comfortably held onto the seat he held already, taking 60% of the vote.

Alain Lewis new

Labour holds all three Southborough and High Brooms seats.

VOTE 2022    
Alain Lewis Lab 1033 60%
Nasir Jamil Con 436 25%
Yvonne Raptis Lib Dem 243 14%

The picture for the Conservatives was disastrous across the Borough, with the party dropping from 21 seats to just 13 seats, while the Liberal Democrats had 4 gains, becoming the largest party with 16 seats.

The other seats on the Borough Council are now held by the Tunbridge Wells Alliance with 9 seats, Labour 7 and Independents 3.

The Alliance had 3 gains and Labour 2 gains.

The council leader, Conservative Tom Dawlings retained his seat in Benenden and Cranbrook but his deputy David Scott was defeated in Culverden.  16 seats were up for election out of the 48 on the council.

CONSERVATIVES had 2 holds:
– Benenden & Cranbrook (Tom Dawlings)
– Pembury (Paul Barrington-King)

– St James (Rob Wormington)
– St John’s (Mark Ellis – by 4 votes ahead of Labour!)

– Broadwater (Jamie Johnson)
– Culverden (Martin Brice)
– Pantiles & St Marks (Gavin Barrass)
– Southborough North (Brendon Le Page)

TUN WELLS ALLIANCE  had 2 holds:
– Park (Nick Pope)
– Speldhurst & BIdborough (Matthew Sankey)

– Brenchley & Horsmonden (Stephen Mcmillan)
– Hawkhurst & Sandhurst (Ellen Neville)
– Paddock Wood East (Suzie Wakeman)

LABOUR had 1 hold:
– Southborough & High Brooms (Alain Lewis)

LABOUR  had 2 gains:
– Paddock Wood West (Ray Moon)
– Sherwood (Shadi Rogers)


Tunbridge Wells Council Leader calls for “Collaboration” between Parties

After last Thursday’s by-election defeat, the Conservative leader of Tunbridge Wells Council has called for all political parties to work together in collaboration in the interests of the Borough.

The Conservative’s 23 council seats are now outnumbered by the 25 seats held by opposition parties.

In an interview with Southborough News, Cllr Tom Dawlings (pictured below) said he spoke regularly with the opposition group leaders.

Cllr Dawlings said: “I believe that most of the priorities I set out when I was appointed leader of the council in May are uncontroversial and my intention is to continue to work on those priorities in the best interest of the town and borough.”

Cllr Dawlings 2

He argued that the cross-party collaborative agreement on plans to rent out the surplus space in the Town Hall for “co-working” showed that the different groups were able to work effectively together.

Cllr Dawlings outlined new proposals including an electric vehicle mini-bus service for the centre of Tunbridge Wells as well as a potential new cycle and pedestrian route from Tunbridge Wells to Tonbridge.

He said the cabinet system of running councils meant that after the full council appointed him for a four year term as leader last May, he then appointed the cabinet, which is responsible for most day-to-day decisions in the council.

Cllr Dawlings said he was unsure quite what might now happen if the Conservatives were outvoted in full council, noting that Tunbridge Wells had “no recent experience in coping with a political group having no overall majority”.

Tom Dawlings - CRFC

The major issue now confronting the council is the budget. The draft budget recently received unanimous approval at November’s Finance and Governance Cabinet Advisory Board and will be published for public consultation in December.

The council is planning to draw on reserves to cover the budget shortfall caused by a loss of income from charges (as a result of the Covid pandemic) and rising costs of staff, utility bills, waste collection and parks maintenance.

The budget will be addressed by the full council in February. The council plans to increase its element of Council Tax by 2% (or £5 mimimum per household). Cllr Dawlings emphasised that the bulk of the Council Tax collected by the Borough is passed onto Kent County Council, Police, Fire services and for Parish and Town Councils.

On the Speldhurst and Bidbrough by-election result, Cllr Dawlings said the result “was hugely disappointing” and the Conseratives had had an “admirable candidate” in Rowena Stanyer who took 46% of the vote.

Cllr Dawlings pointed out that his party’s share of the vote was an improvement on the May election result when the Conservatives had held the seat.

Matthew Sankey (pictured below) won the Speldhurst and Bidborough seat last week for the Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party by just 58 votes with a 50% share of the vote.

Sankey 5

The chair of Tunbridge Wells Alliance Nick Pope told Southborough News that the seat had been won by his party after “relentless campaigning”.

He said: “Matthew and volunteers were out canvassing and leafleting every day for 3 weeks across the ward.  We knew it could only be won by working hard and speaking to as many people as possible.”

Nick Pope (pictured below) emphasised the recent slide in Conservative support, pointing out that just 3 ½ years ago, the Conservatives had a massive majority, holding 43 out of 48 seats on the Borough Council.

Nick Pope crop

Nick Pope said: “It is up to Tom Dawlings, the Leader of the council, to decide what he should do. The Conservatives are still in control of the council with their majority. The Conservatives have all seats on the cabinet, all committee chairs and all committee vice-chairs. It is likely that little will change until the May elections.”

Meanwhile, the Conservative leader Cllr Tom Dawlings said he wanted to look at new options for a cycle and pedestrian route linking Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge.

Earlier plans for an “active travel” route along the A26 which Borough Council officers had worked on for some time and for which Government funding had been secured had had to be abandoned when these failed to get the support of Kent Highways officials due to safety concerns. Cllr Dawlings said he was now discussing alternative routes using existing Public Rights of Way but away from the A26.

Despite the strong campaign against development around Capel, Cllr Dawlings continued to argue the case for satisfying central Government housing demands by developing a new settlement and including new infrastructure for road improvements, new schools and medical and recreational facilities. He said this was less damaging than adding more houses to existing villages where the infrastructure was already overloaded.

Save Capel

Cllr Dawlings said the recent speech where Boris Johnson suggested that green fields should be protected from development had not yet turned into revised government policy, so the existing Local Plan including the new development at Capel was continuing its approval process and was currently with government-appointed planning inspectors.

Cllr Dawlings also noted that the Borough Council’s Local Plan covered more than housing.  He argued the plans for Kingstanding Way on the North Farm Industrial estate provided: “wonderful business and employment opportunities.”

Town Hall crop

On the state of shops in Tunbridge Wells, Cllr Dawlings noted that the Pantiles area was currently “buzzing” and he expressed optimism that the empty BHS store would soon attract a new retailer.

He said the Council was looking at ways of helping the local economy by connecting the top and bottom of Tunbridge Wells more effectively.

He said there were plans to trial a light electric vehicle mini-bus style taxi around the centre of Tunbridge Wells.  He said the idea was “really exciting” and could improve the attractiveness of the town.

Town hall cu 2

Cllr Dawlings said there was cross-party support for efforts to upgrade the existing Town Hall building.  The council is working to improve its energy efficiency and catch up with a backlog of maintenance including repairs to the leaking roof and repainting of the windows.

Having brought the building up to a high standard, the council would be renting out unused space to bring in new income streams and reduce costs for the council.

Cllr Dawlings said that council staff numbers had been cut by 30% in recent years, so there was 20,000 square feet of office space that could be rented out, with the hope of bringing 300 new office workers into the centre of the town.

Borough Council Defeat for Conservatives in Bidborough ward By-election

The Conservatives grip on power at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has slipped further after their defeat in a by-election on Thursday.

Voters in the Speldhurst and Bidborough ward elected the Tunbridge Wells restaurateur, Matthew Sankey (pictured below) from the Tunbridge Wells Alliance Party, who won 50% of the vote.

Sankey 5

The Conservatives now have 23 seats on the council and are outnumbered by the opposition parties who have 25 seats, which means the Conservatives may struggle to get their key policies approved.

Years of drama over an abandoned theatre project and controversy over large-scale housebuilding plans on green fields have worn down the Conservative’s normally rock solid majority in the Borough.

The by-election was triggered by the death of the sitting Conservative Councillor Julian Stanyer. The Conservative candidate this time was his daughter Rowena Stanyer, who won 46%.

The Liberal Democrats didn’t stand, while Labour won 4%.

The ward of Speldhurst and Bidborough has 3 seats in total. Lucy Willis was elected for the Alliance in   the seat in 2019 (when she defeated the then Conservative head of the Council, David Jukes) while Harry Allen was elected for the Conservatives last May.

The seat also covers parts of Groombridge, Langton Green and Ashurst.

Turnout on Thursday was 34.7%.


Matthew Sankey
Alliance 788 50% Elected
Rowena Stanyer Con 730 46% Not elected
Aleksander Klimanski Labour 65 4% Not elected


Harry Allen
Con 912 22% Elected
Julian Stanyer Con 860 21% Elected
Matthew Sankey Alliance 626 15% Not elected
Anne Backshell Alliance 486 12% Not elected
Clare Himmer Green 311 8% Not elected
Jeremy Stirling Lib Dem 290 7% Not elected
Martin Brice Lib Dem 246 6% Not elected
Millie Gray Labour 176 4% Not elected
Anne Musker Labour 174 4% Not elected

Back in May, the Conservative Party lost its overall majority on Tunbridge Wells Borough Council for the first time in twenty years.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) has put forward plans for thousands of houses in the Capel area, filling in much farmland between Tonbridge and Paddock Wood in order to meet central government housing targets.

Anger among local residents led to the Conservatives losing the seat of Capel in May to the Liberal Democrats who won 75% of the vote in that ward.