Sevenoaks – one of the few remaining Conservative strongholds in the South-East, but for how long?
The answer may be shorter than you think.
Sevenoaks District Council has been Conservative controlled since 1999 and remained so after the previous elections in 2019 where, despite losing three seats, they managed to retain 43 seats to the Liberal Democrats four.
Given these numbers, you would be forgiven for thinking that it will be more of the same this time around. However, given the gains made by both Independents and the Liberal Democrats in 2019 coupled with the national standing of the Conservative Party, there are fears within the Conservative party for the outcomes on the 4th May.
We anticipated that as a minimum, the 2023 elections will see the Conservative majority in Sevenoaks significantly reduced, with No Overall Control or potentially even a Liberal Democrat gain possible.
This would follow the trend in other Kent and Surrey authorities – including neighbouring Tunbridge Wells. As ever, development is one of the key issues. The decision by the Inspector to throw out the previous Local Plan has left the district vulnerable to development, and despite the recognition of this fact by the administration, their active work to promote “good sites” has led to criticism for being too pro-development. This has left the Liberal Democrats, Labour and Independents to campaign on an anti-Green Belt development basis (often against the overarching national policies of the respective parties).
The Liberal Democrats in particular have been wary of any Green Belt development in the borough using the development of Green Belt sites (for housing) as a wedge issue which they can use as a differentiator between themselves and the Conservatives.
A new direction for the council with potential new leadership could cause quite significant uncertainty in the short term.
There will also likely be a significant change to the makeup of the Development Control Committee following the elections. The committee currently consists of 15 Conservatives, two Liberal Democrats and one Independent and has been stable for some time. The Chair of the committee, Cllr Gary Williamson’s previously robust seat may be vulnerable this year as the Liberal Democrats are fielding two candidates in his ward.
The question in Sevenoaks seems not to be if the Conservatives will suffer losses but rather how many and whether the Liberal Democrats will gain enough seats to take overall control.