By William Mata
Four decades after he was first elected to the Town Hall, Councillor James Scholes is looking forward to an unprecedented second term as Mayor of Tunbridge Wells.
Should he successfully defend his Pantiles and St Mark’s ward in May’s borough elections the 75-year-old will succeed Councillor Len Horwood as Deputy.
Then in May 2019 the Conservative is set to become the first since the Second World War to hold the position twice, having first donned the chains in 1991 to 1992.
With hundreds of council meetings and functions behind him, Cllr Scholes has seen it all but remains optimistic about the town’s future and is committed to his constituents.
“It is a great honour and to be asked to be Mayor again is unprecedented,” he said.
“The council leader David Jukes asked if I would like to do it and I spent a little while thinking about it and then I said I would like to do it.”
When Cllr Scholes was first elected to serve Tunbridge Wells Borough Council [TWBC] in 1976 the original Star Wars had not been released, James Callaghan was Prime Minister and ABBA were topping the charts.
Tunbridge Wells was also a very different place.
“When I first arrived there would have been old ladies in Hoopers who would have scoffed at the word change.
“We stuttered as a council in deciding the best way forward but getting Royal Victoria Place (was a breakthrough).
“Now David Jukes has pushed on ambitious projects which the town needs,” he said, listing the regeneration to his former Union House office as an example.
“There has also been a big increase in traffic, but the council has limited power in what can be done about that.”
“It would have been nice to have the cinema,” he added, commenting on the former ABC-site which has stood derelict on Mount Pleasant for 18 years and counting.
Having been born in Oldham in Yorkshire, Cllr Scholes moved to Sheffield and the London before settling in Tunbridge Wells with wife Jane in 1970.
The pair have two children and six grandchildren, while the councillor worked for Barclays as a member of the Stock Exchange and also as a software house manager. He retired before 1990 to concentrate on his council duties.
Apart from the two years he took off from 1986 to 1988 to concentrate on work, he has served without interruption and was Council Leader from 1998 to 2002.
“Council members are not so smartly dressed in the chamber these days,” he added.
“They also used to bow when the Mayor left the chamber, which was a mark of respect that I miss.
“A big change is that there is now a Cabinet system. It leads to more instantaneous decisions and the same has happened at Kent County Council.”
County Hall has been another part of Cllr Scholes’ life, having last year retired after serving Tunbridge Wells South ward on the authority for 24 years.
In this time he served as Social Services Chairman and Finance Chairman, among other roles, and last month was presented with a special scroll to mark his election as an Honorary Alderman alongside six other former councillors.
He considers his greatest achievements to include helping introduce PCSOs, helping County Hall become more financially secure and leading his party back into power overnight in Tunbridge Wells in 1998.
“I was Mayor when the restored Dunorlan Park was reopened,” he said, on another highlight.
“Princess Anne reopened it. People said we would ruin in, but opponents admitted they were wrong and liked the new park.”
Cllr Scholes’ financial nous saw TWBC find ways to balance the books without raising council tax – although this may have counted against the authority.
“The Labour Government then capped the level we could increase it by,” he continued, saying how situation played out was one of his few regrets.
“This meant that we could never raise it and that may have inhibited us.
“On the other hand it does mean we have lower council tax than Crowborough residents do to this day.
“We have always been regarded as one of the most efficient councils.”
Through its various names and incarnations, the councillor has always served the Pantiles and has never lost an election, usually taking at least 60 per cent of the vote.
Although this record came under threat in 1980 when he won the election by only six votes on the third recount.
Cllr Scholes said being Mayor had been so enjoyable the first time that he did not want a second stint to sour memories. But after speaking with Jane, who would become Mayors, the pair decided it would be a new experience.
“There was a lot of travelling all around the county (the first time) and I think it will be more localised now.
“You realise there is so much good work that is being done locally.”
“It is the little kicks that keep you going,” he added.
“A lot of people raise their problems with me and (quite often) they write back to say thank you. People can remember you have helped them for many years.
“I would not be standing again if I did not think I could make a contribution.”