• Tuesday, March 28, 2023


Woking Borough Council still left with no overall control after shock Liberal Democrat Horsell win

Kevin Davis, Saj Hussain

By: Pramod Thomas

By Julie Armstrong

CONSERVATIVES have suffered two shocking defeats in Woking, with the borough’s mayor and the county’s deputy leader both losing their seats to Liberal Democrats.

The big surprise for the borough at last night’s count (May 7) was the break with the Conservatives’ monopoly on Horsell, with Beryl Hunwicks losing her seat after four consecutive terms of office.

Hunwicks has represented the ward since 2007 and was beaten by Adam Kirby who was standing as a councillor for the first time.

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

Unlike in 2019 neither the Labour nor Green Party fielded a candidate so it was a two-horse race with the Liberal Democrats, who won 54.2 per cent of the vote and a majority of over 300.

Kirby told the electorate his aims were to ‘prioritise affordable family homes’ and ‘stop speculation by Woking Borough Council with your money’.

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

Kirby said the first thing that needed to be challenged was [lack of] transparency in decision-making.

“And by doing so, make better decisions and run the council in, I suppose you could say, 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 per cent.

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

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 per cent of the Canalside vote.

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

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

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 had a nerve-wracking wait for results.

Hussain even said he had been given a hard time while out campaigning by people who ‘hate the Conservatives’.

Tahir Aziz

Labour’s Tahir Aziz, who retained his Canalside seat with over half the votes, looked shocked and 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 Tories’ 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 Borough 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. It is thought they will meet via Zoom on Monday to discuss a way forward.

Ayesha Azad

During announcements Ayesha Azad hinted that she was going to concede her leadership.

She acknowledged results may have reflected residents’ feelings on the town centre towers, which can be seen from far and wide across Surrey and are the legacy of her predecessor David Bittleston and chief executive Ray Morgan, both of whom have just retired.

“Maybe,” she said. “Or the incumbency, people want change after 11 years.

“We’ll spend some time licking our wounds, and we’ll bounce back.”

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

He has represented Goldsworth East and Horsell village since 2013, but ultimately voters chose Liberal Democrats foster carer and debt coach Lance Spencer, who took 46.7 per cent of the vote compared to Kemp’s 42.7 per cent.

This was the only change of hands politically for the Woking area at a county level, leaving the Conservatives with four seats, Liberal Democrats with two and Independents with one.

Overall on the county council the Conservatives bucked the national trend by losing seats, but still have a clear majority with 47 out of 81 (58 per cent).

(Local Democracy Reporting Service)

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