Mole Valley made headlines when members unanimously voted to write to the Planning Inspectorate over the Green Belt allocations in their draft Local Plan. Submitted a year ago, the Plan was already paused in the wake of the proposed changes to NPPF – and now it looks like it will stay that way until the NPPF changes are resolved.
The expected removal of Green Belt sites has been praised by local residents in the district. However Liberal Democrat members of the council, including Cabinet Member for Planning, Cllr Margaret Cooksey have stated their disappointment at the delay to the Local Plan and reiterating the risk the delays poses to green sites in the district.
While Mole Valley District Council typically elects in thirds, 2023 will see an all-out election thanks to boundary changes. Whilst there is unlikely to be any overall change in control, the election will likely see the Conservatives lose their position as the main opposition. Amongst the current Conservative wards that may be lost is Leatherhead South where margins of victory have been steadily declining.
Also under the spotlight is the current leader of the council, Cllr Stephen Cooksey, and his ward colleague and wife, current Cabinet Member for Planning, Cllr Margaret Cooksey. During the extraordinary council meeting on 16th January Cllr Margaret Cooksey faced repeated calls to stand down from the Conservative members of the council yet remained defiant. Both represent safe seats in the ward of Dorking South, Cllr Stephen Cooksey was last elected in 2019 with 67.5% of the vote share and Cllr Margaret Cooksey was last elected in 2022 with 61% of the vote share. With their vote share likely to remain high, it seems that the only situation in which the Cooksey’s could lose their seats is if they decide to step down.
Whilst Mole Valley may not be the most compelling case study for declining Conservative support in the South East it is worth paying attention to as mounting pressure on the ruling Liberal Democrats to approve a viable local plan could spell for an interesting picture once the statements of persons nominated are released. Watch this space.