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Woking Mayor, County Deputy Leader in Shock Defeats by Lib Dems

Published on: 8 May, 2021
Updated on: 9 May, 2021

Adam Kirby Lib Dem winner in Horsell

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Conservatives suffered two bombshell defeats in Woking last night (May 7), the borough mayor and the county’s deputy leader both losing to Liberal Democrats.

The long Conservative monopoly of Horsell was shattered, Mayor Beryl Hunwicks losing her seat after four consecutive council terms since 2007, beaten by Adam Kirby, standing as a councillor for the first time.

“There is an automatic Conservative vote, isn’t there in Surrey?” he said. “I think we’ve managed to successfully challenge that.”

Unlike in 2019, neither Labour nor Green Party fielded candidates so it was a two-horse race. The Liberal Democrats won 54.2% of the vote with a majority of more than 300.

Mr Kirby’s campaign centred on “prioritising affordable family homes” and “stopping speculation by Woking Borough Council with your money”.

The administration was damaged this year when an independent investigation revealed the council had kept its dealings with the Woking Football Club stadium developer secret and failed to properly address financial risks.

Mr Kirby said the first challenge was [lack of] transparency in decision-making. “And by doing so, make better decisions and run the council, I suppose you could say, in a business-like way.

“Making notes in more of the meetings, particularly with external parties, would be a good start.”

The Liberal Democrats also made gains in St Johns, where Conservative Graham Cundy stepped down and Dale Roberts beat Paul Smith, and in Mount Hermon, where David Bittleston retired and Ellen Nicholson beat Carl Thomson.

In Mount Hermon, the Greens almost doubled their vote share on last year, now at 13.4%.

The Conservatives did make a gain in Byfleet and West Byfleet, which had been held by Independent John Bond who was not standing again.

Winner Josh Brown’s closest rival was Independent Neil Willetts, formerly of the UK Independence Party.

UKIP fielded only one candidate in Woking borough this time. Will Roe took just 4% of the Canalside vote.

Will Foster

The largest majority of the night for the borough went to the Liberal Democrat Will Forster of Hoe Valley (60%), who has been in office for 10 years.

Graham Chrystie, elected on a Conservative platform in 2016 but who defected to the Liberal Democrats two years ago, lost his Pyrford seat to Conservative Steve Dorsett.

Mr Chrystie was on the Overview and Scrutiny committee task group whose work led to the external review into procedural failings at the council.

The Conservatives also kept hold of Heathlands and Knaphill, much to the relief of Kevin Davis and Saj Hussain who admitted to having a nerve-racking wait for results.

Mr Hussain said he had been given a hard time out campaigning by people who “hate the Conservatives”.

Labour’s Tahir Aziz, who retained his Canalside seat with more than half the votes, looked shocked but overjoyed to learn Surrey County Council had doubled its number of Labour representatives to two after victory for Robert King in Egham.

“We didn’t even think about it,” he said. “This is a kind of breakthrough in Tory heartland.

“We see Tory people are very disappointed the way the Tories run their borough, and the lack of transparency.”

The political make-up of Woking council is now 13 Conservative (down one), 12 Liberal Democrats (up two), three Labour (no change) and two Independents (down one).

Immediately after results were announced, neither of the main parties knew what would happen next. They are likely to meet via Zoom on Monday to discuss a formula.

Ayesha Azad

Ayesha Azad hinted of conceding her leadership. She acknowledged results may have reflected residents’ feelings on the town centre towers, criticised far and wide across Surrey, and the legacy of her predecessor, Mr Bittleston, and chief executive Ray Morgan, both now retired.

“Maybe,” she said, “people want change after 11 years. We’ll spend some time licking our wounds, and we’ll bounce back.”

She said she was shocked some Surrey County Council cabinet members lost their seats and was sad to see deputy leader Colin Kemp go.

He has represented Goldsworth East and Horsell village since 2013, but voters chose Liberal Democrat foster-carer and debt-coach Lance Spencer, who took 46.7% of the vote compared with Mr Kemp’s 42.7%.

Colin Kemp

This was the only county political change for the Woking area, leaving the Conservatives with four seats, Liberal Democrats, two and Independents, one.

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test 4 Responses to Woking Mayor, County Deputy Leader in Shock Defeats by Lib Dems

  1. David Oliver Reply

    May 9, 2021 at 9:44 am

    For me, the towers in the centre of Woking are far too tall, too expensive, late in delivery and don’t meet requirements.

    Who wants to live in a flat now? That’s why people are having difficulty in selling flats in the borough, as any estate agent will readily tell you.

    These towers have turned into white elephants, a very large reminder of how a ruling party hasn’t listened to the people they represent.

    More flats aren’t the answer, building better homes is, as continued growth isn’t sustainable or logically sound but focused balanced improvements replace old inefficiency is. Cramming people into tight spaces doesn’t work.

    • Sean Jenkinson Reply

      May 11, 2021 at 2:40 pm

      When you are the 21st most populated country in the world in (2020 position) with a population of 67,886,011, but are 80th in the world for landmass at 242,900 sq miles landmass, with a population expected to grow to 70 million by 2031, we must realise that will run out of land if we don’t build up.

  2. Chris Greening Reply

    May 9, 2021 at 2:36 pm

    I, and I suspect a great number of other people, entirely agree with David Oliver’s comments. For far too long, the residents of Woking have been ignored by both the local councillors and by officials like Ray Morgan, who has now retired and left the ratepayers with an enormous debt.

    Now there is a new initiative, which will enable local residents to take part in the decision-making process, we may see our council listening to the electorate, time will tell.

  3. Bob Cowell Reply

    May 10, 2021 at 11:38 am

    The towers do nothing for the town and the continual disruption to the road network has lead residents to rebel. When will it end? The Victoria Arch widening is next.

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