New Kingston Council leader expected to continue with “divisive” policies

Opposition councillors on Kingston Council have described ex-leader Caroline Kerr as a “divisive” leader with an unpopular agenda, and said they expect her policies will be continued by her successor.

Kerr announced her resignation on October 18, having led Kingston Council for a year and a half. She has now been replaced by Andreas Kirsch, who the opposition has painted as a continuity candidate.

Conservative councillor Ian George said it “wasn’t surprising” that Kerr resigned.

“Her time as leader of the Lib Dem-run council has been very divisive,” he said.

“The recent full council meeting was a shambles, where Cllr Kerr’s plans to knock down the Kingfisher swimming pool without proper plans to rebuild it, met with bemusement and anger by residents and councillors alike.

“The risky plans resulted in another Lib Dem councillor resigning, and several others walking out of the meeting rather than supporting Cllr Kerr’s plans. She had to go.”

George said he did not expect Kirsch to revisit policies set under Kerr. 

“Councillor Kirsch has always voted through the plans of the previous leader without any criticism, so I have little faith that anything will change,” he said. 

Well-regarded leader

Tim Cobbett, deputy leader of the council, said Kerr was “well regarded” by colleagues.

“Councillor Kerr has left for personal reasons on her own terms,” he said before Kirsch was selected. “I expect our next leader to be committed to the same core agenda and projects.” 

He said one of her key achievements was forming the Kingston Stronger Together Hub “to provide help to residents who needed it during the Covid lockdowns”. The programme aims to help those who are self-isolating by supplementing support already provided by loved ones.

Cobbett also said Kerr led the implementation of mental health support, helped those who were facing eviction, and set-up re-training schemes for those who lost their jobs during the pandemic. He praised her efforts in making sustainable growth which “protects our Green Belt”, and in building programmes such as three new schools and a care home for people with dementia.

He also said the planned demolition of the Kingfisher Leisure Centre, a project Kerr launched, would lead to “an exciting, new, modern leisure facility”.

However, Green Party councillor Sharron Sumner criticised the proposal to demolish the Kingfisher Centre “without a clear financial plan”, and said the recent meeting about the centre showed how divided the Lib Dems were. 

“Fourteen of her own councillors either didn’t show up or left because they didn’t want to vote to demolish the Kingfisher which was her plan,” Sumner said.

Jon Tolley, who left the Liberal Democrats in September but stayed on as a councillor, also criticised the Kingfisher plan.

“I think the Kingfisher/Transform Kingston set up is demonstrably undeliverable,” he said. “[It] has spiraled out of control and has us lying to residents.”

Tolley spoke out against the plan in a council meeting on October 12, in which the council voted against delaying the Kingfisher’s demolition.

The Kingston Conservatives tweeted that Kerr was “ousted” due to “infighting”.

“All great fun, but in the meantime Kingston Council is being run into the ground, and the residents are paying the price.”

Cobbett called the local Conservatives “desperate”.

He said: “They know their Government in Westminster, is not popular locally, are struggling to find candidates and being forced to consider alliances with the Kingston Independent Residents Group (KIRG) and Kingston Green Party – hoping to form a ‘coalition of chaos’ after the next council election.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the council voted against demolishing the Kingfisher on October 15. In fact, the council voted against delaying the demolition of the Kingfisher on October 12.  

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