Candidates sought to campaign on local issues in this month’s Reigate & Banstead borough elections but did so against a backdrop of Brexit turmoil.
The elections were the most significant in the borough for 20 years as a ward boundary review meant every seat was up for election rather than the normal one-third. The review also reduced the number of wards and councillors.
At the polls, the Greens and Liberal Democrats made gains, the Residents held on to what they had, but the Conservatives retained a clear majority on the (now smaller) council.
At the count and shortly afterwards, reigate.uk spoke to the political groups winning seats in our part of the borough.
The Liberal Democrats won all three seats in the redrawn Meadvale & St John’s ward, having previously held just one.
Among the winning trio was Steve Kulka, who returns to the council after narrowly losing his seat to the Conservatives last year.
He said the new ward boundaries had worked well for the Lib Dems: “We lost what’s known as the Trees estate down in Woodhatch, which has always been a very low-turnout area.
“When we were told we were going to lose that and gain an area close to Redhill, a relatively high-turn-out area, we realised that it would be a bit of a challenge, but that there was more scope for making progress there, and it obviously worked with us.”
The trio said that although they had included their party’s pro-remain Brexit stance in their leaflets, they had been keen to focus on local issues.
Newly-elected David Ross said that in any event, while there was increasing dissatisfaction with the Tories over Brexit, that came from both sides (leave as well as remain).
Steve Kulka said, when asked if the party’s pro-remain stance had been a vote-winner: “There was no real proof that it was, but I don’t think it actually caused a problem either.”
Jane Philpott said that they’d wanted to address local issues: “The fact that we are associated with a party that wants to remain wasn’t relevant to the local problems.”
Steve Kulka added: “Far more people mentioned things like the fact that we really want the council to commit to carbon neutrality, charging points for electric vehicles in council car parks, and making sure that the cycle paths that have been installed are actually available for use because so many people are allowed to get away with parking in them.”
Jane Philpott said they needed to work with councillors in other wards to look at parking that overspilled into Meadvale & St John’s, and Steve Kulka said they would be monitoring the Redhill & Reigate golf club site following its closure – both issues that voters had raised.
The Greens won all three seats in Redhill East, where they previously held two, and all three in Earlswood & Whitebushes, where they previously held just one. Again, this time boundaries were different.
Ruth Ritter, elected for Earlswood & Whitebushes said: “Local community support has been absolutely fantastic, and we’ve worked hard talking to people on the doors.”
Asked whether Brexit had been a factor, Cllr Ritter said “If it has been raised on the door we have brought the agenda back to the local issues of affordable housing, not building on the green belt, and the kind of issues that we’re raising locally.”
Jonathan Essex, re-elected for Redhill East, added: “[Brexit] has not been the main part of our campaign but I think it has affected results nationally.”
“Clearly some people are upset and frustrated with politics. We were expecting a low turn-out because of it, but it didn’t happen,” he added.
On the future priorities for the six Green councillors, Cllr Essex said: “We want to provide effective opposition to the Conservative-led council in Reigate & Banstead.
“The pressure on our green belt has not gone away. Genuinely affordable homes for rent are not yet being built. Surrey County Council is closing children’s centres and has reduced youth workers and as of yet the local council has not stepped in to bridge the gap.
“Those are just three examples of areas where we think opposition is needed to make our council work better.”
Cllr Essex also welcomed the news that Greens had won seats across other boroughs and districts in the county: “We know we’re not the only Greens in Surrey any more.”
The Conservatives lost seats to the Greens and Lib Dems, but suffered more from the boundary review reduction in seat numbers.
Overall, the party had a strong performance in Reigate & Banstead compared to other parts of Surrey.
Mark Brunt, who was re-elected in Hooley, Merstham and Netherne, and who has served as leader of the council since last year, credited the party’s performance to a long history of campaigning on local issues and working hard in its wards.
He said no one major focus for local concern emerged on the doorstep from voters: “So, yes, they were unhappy with national politics, but, by and by, they were satisfied with what the council does, and I think that helped us to retain our seats,” he said.
He said the Green gains in Earlswood & Whitebushes were down to their hard work there over the past year, while the Greens winning another seat in Redhill East was made easier by having two already there.
On the Lib Dem gains in Meadvale & St John’s, he said that was where the Lib Dems had focused and that they had benefited from a “Remain backlash”.
Asked whether Brexit had played a part in the results more widely in the borough, Cllr Brunt said: “Certainly in the early parts of the campaign, Brexit was a very big factor, but it seemed in the last two weeks of the campaign, while the MPs were on their Easter break, it became less of a factor.”
“Most people seemed to accept and understand the difference between the local council and national,” he added.
“I don’t think I’ve seen an election where there’s been so much anger towards all national parties, and that made it very difficult to try to get across local issues and local priorities because people were so focused on their disenchantment with politicians,” he also said.
Asked whether local Conservative MP Crispin Blunt’s Eurosceptic views had helped or hindered the campaign, Cllr Brunt said: “There are those people that really like him and those that don’t, so it really depends on who you were talking to. I think he’s seen in the same way as all national politicians are seen – with disappointment. But he didn’t actually come up much on the doorstep, in my experience.”
Cllr Brunt said the priorities of the council (assuming he is re-elected as leader) would be the provision of affordable housing and running the council on a sustainable financial basis, now that the council no longer receives money from central government.
Independent Christopher Whinney was one of three councillors re-elected for the Reigate ward (the other two being Conservatives Rosemary Absalom and Michael Blacker).
After the result, he thanked voters and supporters for his re-election, and welcomed the high turn-out in Reigate (42%), saying it was “excellent” that people had voted, whichever way that was.
He said he was looking forward to working with Cllrs Absalom and Blacker for the benefit of the ward.
On the question of whether Brexit had affected the results, he said that residents had suggested that they were not keen to vote, but that appeared not to have happened in the end, judging by the high turn-out.
He added that being an independent enabled him to challenge whoever held the majority on the council.
Cllr Whinney sits with the Residents group in the council chamber, making a total of seven councillors.
Summary of parties’ performance
|Group||Seats||+/- since May 2018||Notes*|
|Conservative||29||-11||Lost 1 to Green in Redhill East; lost 2 to Green in Earlswood & Whitebushes; lost 2 to Lib Dem in Meadvale & St John's|
|Green||6||+3||Gained from Con: 1 in Redhill East and 2 in Earlswood & Whitebushes|
|Liberal Democrat||3||+2||Gained from Con: 2 in Meadvale & St John's|
|Total = 45 (previous council had 51). Ward boundaries differ from 2018.|
Results by ward
|Eddy Humphreys||Conservative||1233 (Elected)|
|Sam Walsh||Conservative||1210 (Elected)|
|Nadean Moses||Conservative||1076 (Elected)|
Chipstead, Kingswood and Woodmansterne
|Tim Archer||Conservative||1422 (Elected)|
|Simon Parnall||Conservative||1277 (Elected)|
|Caroline Neame||Conservative||1207 (Elected)|
|Eileen Hannah||Lib Dem||545|
Earlswood and Whitebushes
|Hal Brown||Green||1452 (Elected)|
|Ruth Ritter||Green||1194 (Elected)|
|Susan Fenton||Green||1119 (Elected)|
|Anthony ANDERSON||Lib Dem||252|
|Jane Kulka||Lib Dem||229|
Hooley, Merstham and Netherne
|Mark Brunt||Conservative||1026 (Elected)|
|Keith Foreman||Conservative||776 (Elected)|
|Frank Kelly||Conservative||722 (Elected)|
|Jemma De Vincenzo||Lib Dem||435|
|Graham Burr||Lib Dem||406|
|Toby Risk||Lib Dem||344|
Horley Central and South
|Jerry Hudson||Conservative||825 (Elected)|
|Andy Lynch||Conservative||822 (Elected)|
|Christian Stevens||Conservative||782 (Elected)|
Horley East and Salfords
|Tony Schofield||Conservative||993 (Elected)|
|Derek Allcard||Conservative||912 (Elected)|
|Graham Knight||Conservative||881 (Elected)|
Horley West and Sidlow
|Richard Biggs||Conservative||926 (Elected)|
|Alex Horwood||Conservative||759 (Elected)|
|Giorgio Buttironi||Conservative||687 (Elected)|
|Geoffrey Southall||Lib Dem||619|
Lower Kingswood, Tadworth and Walton
|Rachel Turner||Conservative||1559 (Elected)|
|Rod Ashford||Conservative||1527 (Elected)|
|Jamie Paul||Conservative||1509 (Elected)|
|Christopher Howell||Lib Dem||595|
Meadvale and St John's
|Stephen Kulka||Lib Dem||1333 (Elected)|
|Jane Philpott||Lib Dem||1248 (Elected)|
|David Ross||Lib Dem||1022 (Elected)|
|Gemma Adamson||Nork Residents||1759 (Elected)|
|Ross Feeney||Nork Residents||1650 (Elected)|
|Peter Harp||Nork Residents||1605 (Elected)|
|Stephen Gee||Lib Dem||187|
|Jonathan Essex||Green||1373 (Elected)|
|Stephen McKenna||Green||1187 (Elected)|
|Sue Sinden||Green||1099 (Elected)|
|Stuart Holmes||Lib Dem||167|
|Gemma Roulston||Lib Dem||151|
|Andrew Cressy||Lib Dem||149|
Redhill West and Wray Common
|Natalie Bramhall||Conservative||1005 (Elected)|
|Rich Michalowski||Conservative||905 (Elected)|
|Kanika Sachdeva||Conservative||829 (Elected)|
|Susan Vincent||Lib Dem||424|
|Michael Rogers||Lib Dem||419|
|David Sayers||Lib Dem||377|
|Rosemary Absalom||Conservative||1297 (Elected)|
|Christopher Whinney||Independent||1096 (Elected)|
|Michael Blacker||Conservative||1063 (Elected)|
|John Vincent||Lib Dem||856|
|Gregory Ardan||Lib Dem||783|
|Monica Dyer||Lib Dem||771|
South Park and Wootdhatch
|James King||Conservative||865 (Elected)|
|Victor Lewanski||Conservative||759 (Elected)|
|Simon Rickman||Conservative||687 (Elected)|
|Moray Carey||Lib Dem||457|
|Helen Samuel||Lib Dem||422|
|Joanna Lloyd||Liberal Democrat||367|
Tattenham Corner and Preston
|Jill Bray||Tattenham Residents||1397 (Elected)|
|Nick Harrison||Tattenham Residents||1363 (Elected)|
|Bob Harper||Tattenham Residents||1330 (Elected)|