Mole Valley Conservatives could lose control of council following elections
MOLE Valley Conservatives look set to lose control of the council after one member lost his seat and another left the party.
The number of Tory seats fell from 17 to 15 as Chris Reynolds lost in Ashtead Village and Fetcham East councillor Kathryn Westwood decided to become an Independent.
Before last Thursday's elections the Conservatives had 17 seats to the Lib Dems' 18, but the Tories ran the council in a coalition with the Ashtead Independents.
Once again no party has an absolute majority, but Lib Dem leader Margaret Cooksey, whose party gained one seat to hold a total of 19 out of 41, told the Advertiser she expects to take control of the council. "The electorate have shown quite clearly that they do not have confidence in the Conservative leadership or the joint administration of the Conservatives and Independents that has been in charge for the past year, and that must change," she said.
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Mrs Cooksey believes there are two options for her party – to negotiate with the Ashtead Independents for a coalition, or to form a "minority administration".
"Our ability to do that will depend on whether the Independents are prepared to respect the decision of the electorate and give the largest party the opportunity to govern," she added.
Conservative leader James Friend, who held on to his seat in Westcott, said: "It went better than we expected. We got far more votes than the Liberals got in the wards where we were up against them, and it is clear that we are the group with the greatest share of votes in the district.
"Over the last year we have been trying to work together with everybody on the council, whether that's formally or informally. I would love to continue as leader but it's one of those things we will have to work out because I want other things as well."
Mr Friend says Mrs Westwood left the Conservatives following a dispute about the selection of Emile Aboud to represent the party in Fetcham West.
"Kathryn didn't support the selection of a more senior, experienced candidate in one of the wards, and she decided to leave the group," Mr Friend said.
"That's her choice and I think the residents will be very disappointed in somebody taking that personal view."
Outgoing Independent leader David Howell, who has stepped down as a councillor, said: "It still remains the case that no one party has overall control, and we have always been of the view that we need to draw on the expertise of the best people on the council.
"I can't say how the discussions will go; that is something that will need to be sorted out."
Mr Howell will be replaced by Simon Ling as leader of the Ashtead Independents.
Tim Loretto, who kept his Dorking South seat for the Lib Dems, said: "It has been an interesting learning curve. Having completed my first four years I am just glad to have the chance to come back and help all residents, regardless of their political leanings."
Chris Townsend who kept his seat in Ashtead Park for the Independents, said: "You can never be confident, but we ran a good campaign, we knocked on every door and it was down to hard work from some really good candidates."
Lib Dem Paul Elderton, who held his seat in Dorking North, said: "I thank my supporters for coming out and voting.
"I still think the Conservatives will probably ally themselves with the Independents, but it will be easier for us to make our point and probably even influence the way they behave."
Conservative Rosemary Dickson won in Leatherhead South.
"I'm delighted with the result," she said. "I would like to thank everyone who voted and put their trust in me, and I will continue to work as hard as I always have to do the best for Leatherhead."
There were 52 votes between the candidates in Fetcham West, where Conservative Emile Aboud retained his seat.
"This is the third time I've been elected and it continues to be a privilege to represent the people of Fetcham," he said. "I would like to congratulate my opponent (Mark Regan) on a brilliant campaign, as it was a very close decision once again."
Stella Brooks, who joined the council after winning a by-election in Bookham South last year, also retained her seat.
"It feels very good to have a won an election after gaining the seat through a by-election last time," she said. "I guess it shows that I am doing the right things. There's lots to learn. I am truly looking forward to it."
Tory Clare Curran, who retained her Bookham North seat, said: "It makes me very proud to know that so many people in Bookham North ward have put their faith in me. I will continue to do my very best and look to improve the roads and get the infrastructure up to scratch."
Mole Valley District Council's system means about one third of council seats come up for election each year, with a break every four years. Councillors are elected for four-year terms.
Mrs Westwood's seat was not one of those being contested this year.