Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Tories on top

THE Conservatives have won control of Henley Town Council for the first time in 12 years.

THE Conservatives have won control of Henley Town Council for the first time in 12 years.

They took nine of the 16 seats at last week’s elections, giving them their first elected majority since 2003.

The result reflected the Tories’ victory in the general election in which Henley’s Conservative MP John Howell increased his majority to a record 25,000.

The party also celebrated a landslide in the poll for South Oxfordshire District Council.

The other seven town council seats were won by Henley Residents’ Group, which has run the council since 2003 and for all but four of the last 24 years.

The Tories had run the council in the months leading up to the election after two former HRG councillors switched allegiance.

David Nimmo Smith, chairman of Henley Conservatives, said: “This gives us an elected majority, which is great news for the town and we can go about delivering our promises. It will take four years to do that.”

The count took place at Henley town hall on Saturday and there were some high-profile casualties among the 31 candidates.

All but one of the councillors who quit HRG in November failed to be re-elected. The exception was Mayor Martin Akehurst who had switched to the Conservatives.

The others included former mayors Elizabeth Hodgkin, Jeni Wood and Pam Phillips, who all stood as independents.

The fifth was Dieter Hinke, who has been in charge of the neighbourhood plan and had also switched to the Tories.

David Silvester, who caused controversy last year when he blamed the stormy weather and floods on the legalisation of gay marriage, secured the least number of votes of any candidate. The former Conservative councillor was also standing as an independent.

Among the big winners was Conservative Lorraine Hillier, who secured almost 10 per cent of the vote in the Henley North ward and will be made mayor next week after losing out on the role several times under the previous regime.

Former Mayor Stefan Gawrysiak, chairman of HRG, secured the most votes overall as well as securing one of only three seats on the district council that didn’t go to Conservatives.

Cllr Nimmo Smith, who is now in his 21st year as a town councillor, was also elected to the district council. He was already a member of Oxfordshire County Council.

He said the council’s priorities would be the neighbourhood plan, how to tackle the problem of heavy goods vehicles travelling through the town and the redevelopment of Townlands Hospital.

Cllr Nimmo Smith said: “We have get to work with other people at the district and county councils. Air quality is not just an issue in Henley, it is a countywide issue.

“For Townlands we want to make sure the town gets something it is happy with and for that we must work with the clinical commissioning group and Oxford Health.

“I am sure HRG will have positive things to contribute and we will be willing to pick up on those.

“I want to be able to work with everybody as we are all representing the town of Henley. Just because we are under different political banners it doesn’t change that.”

Cllr Akehurst said: “I’m absolutely delighted to be back on the council but there are big challenges ahead. I just hope we can work together and put the  in-fighting behind us.”

Cllr Hillier, who also regained her seat on the district council which she lost in 2011, said: “I am really grateful to people. I honestly did not expect to be re-elected.

“I have been to see the town clerk and talked through becoming mayor. It’s because we were last in a majority 12 years ago when I was deputy mayor.

“Now the Conservatives have their first elected majority since then I can be mayor.

“I did not how long I would have to wait and actually had given up and felt it was never going to happen.”

She added: “It is nice to see some fresh faces on both sides and I look forward to working with them.”

Cllr Gawrysiak said: “I would like to thank the voters of Henley for reaffirming their faith in HRG.

“We now have a new set of councillors who bring energy, dynamism and great ideas to the council. We will work positively for Henley.”

He also thanked Mr Hinke, Mrs Phillips, Mrs Hodgkin and Mrs Wood, saying: “These councillors have done a great job for Henley and Henley should be proud of them.”

Among the new faces on the council is Jane Smewing (HRG), who won the final seat in Henley South ward after her name was drawn out of a hat (actually a ballot box).

Cllr Smewing, the wife of a former mayor, had secured 1,165 votes, exactly the same number as Conservative candidate Rowan Fuller.

After a recount to check the totals were the same, the party chairmen, Cllr Nimmo Smith and Cllr Gawrysiak, agreed for the winner’s name to be drawn from a hat. Deputy returning officer Steven Corrigan made the draw.

Cllr Smewing said: “Yes, it was the oddest thing, it was quite literally the luck of the draw.”

Mr Fuller said: “Clearly it’s disappointing but you have to take it on the chin.

“I have some expertise in team sports after playing at Henley Rugby Club for many years and if the Conservatives want me to get involved I would be happy to.”

Cllr Smewing is one of eight new councillors, four from each party.

The Conservatives saw former town councillor Simon Smith elected in North ward along with newcomers Julian Brookes and Dylan Thomas while 20-year-old Helen Chandler-Wilde was elected in South ward.

Cllr Chandler-Wilde is the youngest town councillor since Laura Pye was elected to the council in 2007 when she was 18.

She said: “I’m absolutely delighted and overwhelmed by whole result for the Conservatives at town, district and parliamentary level.

“There is nothing better than representing the town I grew up in and being involved in improving it.

“Being only 20 means I might know about issues that some of the older councillors might not consider.”

Cllr Thomas said: “Obviously I am happy and delighted the Conservatives have a majority for the first time in many years.

“I hope the whole council can work together as a team. Also, being a newbie with no background, I hope we can work with HRG and put behind us the animosity. With so many new faces I hope that is possible.”

Sam Evans and Will Hamilton, who were first elected in 2011, both held their seats for the Conservatives.

Cllr Evans said: “Obviously I am delighted. It is great that the people of Henley voted for me.

“We wanted everyone to genuinely believe we are local Henley people and all we want to focus on is Henley despite others disputing that.”

HRG’s other new councillors are David Eggleton, Sara Abey and Sarah Miller.

Cllr Eggleton, chairman of Gainsborough Residents’ Association, said: “I feel brilliant. I’m still trying to take it in really.

“It’s disappointing we didn’t win more seats for HRG but it’s good for me.

“I hope we can implement some of things HRG agreed because that’s why I stood for the council.”

Ian Reissmann and Kellie Hinton both retained their seats for HRG.

Cllr Reissmann said: “I’d like to congratulate all the successful candidates and offer commiserations to those who came close.

“The results show that HRG is still trusted by Henley residents to work hard for Henley.

“We’ll be continuing to support Henley. We all have new ambitions for the town as well as a desire to finish off those projects that have carried over from the previous council.”

Cllr Hinton said: “I am really pleased to be re-elected. We have had a hard couple of years on the town council and a clash of personalities.

“I’m pleased there are new HRG and Conservative teams that will hopefully work together.”

Mr Silvester, who received 306 votes, said he did not want to comment on whether his views on gay marriage cost him his seat.

He said: “I’m 75 so losing my seat is not that important. I am not overly disappointed.

“I think having left the Conservative Party I was bound to put myself in a doubtful position as far as votes were concerned. If I had stayed with them I would probably have retained my seat.

“I’m already contributing to the town in various ways â?? I work in the church and I will find plenty to do.”

Mrs Hodgkin, who has been Mayor twice, said that being associated with a party might have helped her win more support.

She added: “Thank you to everyone who did support me. I have received some lovely emails from people being sympathetic.”

Mrs Wood said: “Losing my seat at district and town level is very disappointing.

“We left HRG because we were being bullied a lot and if we explained that to the public they may have been more sympathetic.

“My aim for this town is all councillors would be independent, then they wouldn’t have to tow the party line.

“So many people asked us to stand and said if you don’t, who is going to do the work?

“Maybe those people didn’t come out and vote or didn’t see our name on the slip.”

Mrs Phillips declined to comment.

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