Petition calls for a dedicated Tonbridge town council

    By Andy Tong

    CALL TO ARMS The Urban District Council’s old crest

    A CAMPAIGN has been launched to form a town council in Tonbridge after a survey of 500 residents last year revealed that 80 per cent supported the idea.

    The town is the only part of the borough of Tonbridge & Malling that does not have its own dedicated authority.

    Residents are demanding that, since they are providing the borough council with a payment specifically for services in the town, this money should be administered by a bespoke public body.

    A meeting was held at the Scout Hut in Lamberts Yard on February 28 to launch the Tonbridge Town Council Campaign, using the crest of the old Tonbridge Urban District Council.

    Campaigner Mark Hood said: “We settled on basic requirements, to be as open to individual involvement as possible at every stage and that the new council should balance good value with accountability.”

    They will launch a petition and if 7.5 per cent of people in the town are in favour, then consultation by the borough council will be mandatory.

    The movement is asking shops to hold petitions for the public to sign. Activists will be out collecting the 3,040 signatures needed to trigger the consultation.

    Miss W M Fayerman, the first female Chair of the Urban District Council, and the Clerk A H Neve with a new coat of arms, charter and badge in 1935

    There had been an Urban District Council from 1894 until the Local Government Act of 1972 saw its merger with Malling Rural District and parts of Tonbridge Rural District to become Tonbridge & Malling District Council.

    The umbrella body began functioning on April 1, 1974, then received the status of a borough on December 16, 1983.

    Since last year residents have paid a precept as if the town had its own council to dispense it. Known as the Special Expenses Scheme, it covers the costs of selected local services which are provided by the borough council in the town where elsewhere they would be covered by parish and town councils under their precepts.

    Among these provisions are churchyards, open spaces, play areas, parks and sports grounds in Tonbridge, and ‘support given to local events’.

    Mr Hood said: “We are not opposed to paying this levy for local government in Tonbridge if we have the corresponding layer of democracy to administer it. In order to thrive, Tonbridge needs its own council to champion its interests.”

    The positive response to the idea came from one of 10 questions in a survey by the group Keep River Lawn Green in 2017.

    It was conducted anonymously on the Facebook pages of Tonbridge Calling, Tonbridge Gang, Tonbridge Rock Choir and Tonbridge Mums.

    The campaign is seeking greater control in areas such as youth activities, arts and heritage, festivals, tourist facilities, open spaces, anti-social behaviour and planning.

    Mr Hood, Vice-Chairman of Tonbridge & Malling Green Party, said they campaigned on the issue for several years.

    But he stressed that although they have received cross-party support, a town council does not need to be political.

    “From our conversations with the Lib Dems and Labour it seems that they are now also in favour of a Tonbridge Town Council,” he said.

    “But we want it to be open to everyone – irrespective of political affiliation. We want it to be as broad-based as possible.

    “There is no reason that candidates for a town council would even stand for political parties.”

    The council’s Leader, Nicholas Heslop, responded: “Those promoting a Tonbridge Town Council should consider the costs as well as any possible benefits.

    “It would need its own premises and staff, and a need for another layer of management.”

    Another meeting will be held at the Scout Hut on March 28. To read Cllr Heslop’s full response, see next week’s Times of Tonbridge.