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LIB DEMS PREPARE FOR CLOSE FIGHT AT 2014 POLLS Gearing up for May elections

Leader Fran By Dennis Fowle

MAIDSTONE’s Lib Dems believe they have a real chance next May of depriving the Con- servatives of overall control of Maidstone Council. They also believe Jasper Gerrard is working

well enough to win the Maidstone and The Weald constituency at the next general elec- tion. The Conservatives, however, believe their overall council majority of three will be too strong to overturn, and they see good prospects of gains in other wards in the elec- tion year that bring pressure on some Lib Dem seats. They also see MP Helen Grant cementing

her position after three years in office, with her increasing roles in the constituency and her recent appointment to the high-profile role as Minister of Sport and Equalities. The current state of parties on Maidstone Council is:

Conservatives...............................................30 Lib Dems .....................................................19 Independents..................................................5 Labour.............................................................1 With support for parties at a national level

so difficult to read just now, and with UKIP hoping to continue as major players, fore- casting local elections next May is almost im- possible. Lib Dems will want to see much brighter na-

tional opinion polls to boost local confidence after three years in a coalition Government. All parties will be concerned about growing

local intervention of UKIP candidates, espe- cially on aMay election day to be shared with the European elections. Recent history sug- gests the Tories may have most to fear. There will be contests in 18 wards. The To-

ries hold big majorities in Bearsted, Boxley, Headcorn, Marden and Yalding, Shepway North and Staplehurst. The Lib Dems ought to

‘Not just tree huggers’ “The Lib Dems must not be seen only as the party of ‘tree huggers’ andmust explain bet- ter why we depend upon a healthy environ- ment,” said Cllr FranWilson. “We understand that well-planned and lo-

cated developments with excellent green open space can deliver for people, economy and wildlife.” CllrWilson also gave her views on policies

and campaigns. She confirmed Lib Dem sup- port for how officers calculate the five-year land supply. This was subject to local criti- cism and deep scrutiny by councillors. She sees traffic congestion as a key issue linked to economic and human health. She questions the business case for eco-

nomic development at M20 Junctions 7 and 8, while other sustainable business locations, some with planning permission, remain derelict.

be safe in Allington, Coxheath and Hunton, East, High Street and North. That leaves seven wards – Bridge, South,

Fant, Harrietsham and Lenham, Heath, Park Wood, Shepway South – in- volved in the real heat of the battle. Conservatives will de- fend four and Lib Dems three. It is possible one or two well-known councillors will not be seeking re-election. The Lib Dems’ Steve Beerling. right, is standing down in Fant and health problems will force retire- ments, meaning two seatsmay be contested in some wards. Local parties are gearing themselves for a

very tough battle – and the election is still five months away.

wins support By Dennis Fowle

COUNCILLOR FranWilson’s authority as leader of the Lib Dems onMaidstone Council has been re- established, after group members gave her an “overwhelming vote of confidence”. She will hold the reins

for the foreseeable future and could continue be- yond May’s elections. After a difficult few months control-

ling local Lib Dem policy and cam- paigning, CllrWilson offered to quit as leader and resign from the council. Her critics – set on pre-election cam- paigning and damning many ruling Tory policies – saw her as too close to Conservative group leader Cllr Chris Garland. “I will not change my style of leader-

ship,” she told Downs Mail. “We must try to communicate with the Conserva- tives and work on persuading them when we know they arewrong.” CllrWilson will now concentrate on presenting a united front with the Maidstone and The Weald Lib Dems executive and the prospective parlia- mentary candidate Jasper Gerard. She believes he could be “an excel-

lent MP” but says “he should under- stand local people and local politics”. She added: “Maidstone’s Lib Dems

need to present our carefully-agreed policies and campaigns. In this way we can continue to be unique and punch above our weight. I amnow very buoy- ant about our future.”

‘Build on greenfield sites, but only on our terms’

THE biggest policy/campaign- ingissue nowtobedrivenby Maidstone Lib Dem leader Cllr Fran Wilson and her deputy Tony Harwood is the local plan and use of greenfield sites for development. “With the Government still pushing up housing numbers throughout the UK we cannot possibly campaign for little or no development on greenfield sites. That would be undeliver- able and dishonest,” she told Downs Mail. “It is inevitable this will have

to take place – but regeneration must be the priority – and where greenfield sites are re- leased they must be in the right place with development of the right type sympathetic to the local environment. “The council knows it faces unpopular decisions in approv- ing housing on valued acres in various parts of the borough,” added Cllr.Wilson. “It is an un- palatable part of leadership – a duty we have to perform. But it must be on our terms.” She added the Lib Dems strongly disagree with the Con-

servatives on some principles which should be central to mak- ing these difficult decisions. “We believe the council’s sec-

ond priority: ‘for Maidstone to be a decent place to live’ should be promoted above the current first priority: ‘for Maidstone to have a growing economy’. A growing economy does not au- tomatically make Maidstone a decent place to live. “We are concerned the bor- ough is not doing enough

through its evolving local plan policies to ensure that develop- ers prioritise regeneration sites over greenfields and that the current administration has not been robust enough in identify- ing and safeguarding greenfield sites local communities con- sider too important to lose. “Bluebell Wood, off Her- mitage Lane, is a perfect exam- ple of a precious and irreplaceable landscape cur- rently under threat.

To contact Downs Mail just phone 01622 630330

Jasper Gerard, the Lib Dems’ prospective parliamentary candidate joins

protesters at a dog show in BluebellWood

“Developers must not monop-

olise the future direction of de- velopment. Local residents must also meaningfully influ- ence the process. “The Lib Dems must work

with and influence the Conser- vatives to agree the best local plan strategy for the people, en- vironment and wildlife of the borough. Thismust be achieved quickly – because delay means developers will have freedom to build without council control.”

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