Earlier this month, Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council (TMBC) elected 28-year-old Cllr Matt Boughton as the new Leader of the Council. He will take on the remaining portion of former Leader Cllr Heslop’s term of office, which lasts until May 2023.

This was a slightly unusual election of a new Leader, given that it followed a resignation, rather than an election loss or a loss of confidence vote. Cllr Heslop resigned last month due to an increased workload. He will remain as a backbench councillor, and it will be interesting to see how his approach to development in Tonbridge and Malling changes. He has already embraced the freedom of being a backbencher, giving an interview earlier this month on his frustration with the planning process and proposed government reforms.

Some were surprised by the election of Cllr Boughton, having expected previous deputy Leader Cllr Coffin to take over. However, Cllr Branson, who nominated Cllr Boughton, highlighted the importance of attracting a younger generation of councillors to represent the borough.

Cllr Boughton has only been a councillor at TMBC for a couple of years. However, he previously served as borough councillor in Maidstone from 2015 to 2019 and works as Office Manager for Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge and Malling, so is no stranger to politics.

Following Cllr Boughton’s election as Leader of the Council, we might expect to see a more joined-up approach from these different levels of government, as Cllr Boughton and Tom Tugendhat work together on a daily basis. Even if Cllr Boughton resigns from his job to concentrate on being Leader, this relationship may still be influential. It’s important to note that Tom Tugendhat doesn’t represent the whole borough – the northern section of the borough falls within Tracey Crouch’s constituency. However, Tom Tugendhat’s constituency does cross into Sevenoaks so could we see this relationship strengthen following the planning inspectors’ decision that TMBC failed to meet their Duty to Cooperate with Sevenoaks District Council when preparing the Local Plan?

Cabinet reshuffle places focus on the halted Local Plan and climate crisis

The Cabinet reshuffle that followed the election of Cllr Boughton as Leader saw Cllr Lettington become Deputy Leader of the Council, in addition to his Cabinet position as the Member for Strategic Planning and Infrastructure. This indicates the importance of planning to this administration as they ‘review, refresh, and resubmit’ the Local Plan following the Planning Inspectors decision to throw out the draft Local Plan. Cllr Boughton has stated that TMBC will look again at brownfield sites in the borough, avoiding development on greenbelt and greenfield sites where possible.

The creation of a new cabinet position for Environment and Climate Change (filled by Cllr Betts) certainly highlights the significance of responding to the climate crisis for TMBC’s new Leader.

Leaving party politics behind and working in partnership with residents

Cllr Boughton is keen to leave behind party politics and make big and difficult decisions with residents’ input. We know how difficult it can be to take the party politics out of local government, but with no elections until 2023, Cllr Boughton certainly has an opportunity here to make those difficult decisions without constantly looking over his shoulder.

He has indicated that he will launch consultations on the vision for Tonbridge and Malling and council tax spending. This will be interesting given the current tensions between residents and the Council around bin collections, street cleaning, and the financial pressures that Kent County Council is currently experiencing. It’s easy to imagine that these frustrations will be communicated back to the Council in no uncertain terms through these consultations.

He will also attempt to reset the Council’s relationship with parish councils and community groups, seeking their input on reforms. We will certainly be watching this with interest, considering there are already aspirations to create a separate parish council in Eccles.

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