Chessington South by-election candidates share top priorities in the “forgotten end of the borough”

Key candidates in the upcoming Chessington South and Malden Rushett by-election have outlined their top priorities as polling day creeps closer.

Residents will vote for a councillor to represent the ward on May 6, the same day as the London mayoral election.

Former Liberal Democrat councillor Patricia Bamford, who held the position for 22 years, triggered the by-election after retiring in November. At the time, leader of Kingston Council Caroline Kerr said Patricia was a “tireless campaigner on key issues” who would be greatly missed.

Candidates include former Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay who will be vying to replace Patricia for the Lib Dems, Patricia’s son Charles Bamford, who is standing for Labour, Conservative candidate and local poet Sue Towner, Adrian Lulham for the Greens and nursery owner Michelle Akintoye as the Kingston Independent Residents Group candidate.

So, what are the key candidates calling for?

Andrew MacKinlay, Liberal Democrats

Former Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay is standing as a Lib Dem. Photo: Kingston Liberal Democrats

Andrew MacKinlay left Labour in 2018 after more than 50 years, saying he became “increasingly disillusioned” with the party. However, he does not believe his long-standing affiliation with Labour will deter current Lib Dem supporters in the ward, saying that he sees his new party as “modern and radical”.

He said: “I can’t disguise my age. I have no selfish or strategic interest in terms of career. In fact, what has prompted me to come back [into local government] is my growing appreciation of the green belt and the environment. I feel passionate about it.”

Chessington’s green belt, the largest green space in the ward, is under threat as plans progress to build 2,500 homes on the site. MacKinlay said this is the first election he has been part of where residents have the environment and air quality high on their list of worries.

“People are concerned about not just the loss of the green belt, which I’m determined to protect and defend, but to make sure that there isn’t too greater density development,” he said.

MacKinlay sees the role of a councillor as one extending beyond the realms of Kingston Council. He hopes to engage also with TFL, the Met Police, South Western Railway and other services.

He is particularly passionate about saving the local police desk on Arcade Parade, which is under threat of closure, having already written to the police commissioner.

“This [the police desk] is much valued. We want it and we need it. And why do we need it? Because Kingston’s police station is a long way away in travel time and in terms of attention,” he said.

“There’s always a danger of people just accepting the closure – I don’t.”

MacKinlay is also keen to see affordable, creative homes built in the area and would like council services to start making a swift return post-Covid.

The 71-year-old moved to the area with his wife in the 70s, and, if elected, would be the first councillor to serve on the council from Malden Rushett. Besides his many years of experience of “knowing how to challenge the system” in local and national government, he believes his passion for the ward shines through.

“I do know the area; I’m excited by the area. I am of this area and feel very proud about it,” he said.

Sue Towner, Conservatives

Poet, businesswoman and local resident Sue Towner is standing for the local Conservatives. Photo: Sue Towner

Poet and former local businesses owner Sue Towner believes the ward is forgotten by Kingston Council.

“This end is always forgotten by the Lib Dem council; everything is just focussed on central Kingston. All the surrounding wards are forgotten and it’s just not fair,” she said.

She thinks residents want to see more value for their money in terms of services; especially considering the “poorer end of the borough” will struggle most with the recent hike in council tax.

Towner cites things such as a swimming pool, properly maintained football fields and more trees planted as some of the options to make the area seem more “alive”.

“We need a bit of a clean up. We need things like pavements sorted. The area just needs a bit of a sprucing up,” she said.

Towner, who has lived in the area for three decades, is also keen to protect the at-risk police desk, fight overdevelopment on the green belt and support local young people.

“The young are our future. If we can’t do everything to help them at this difficult time, we just haven’t got a future,” she said.

She also feels she is “more community than politics” and will attend every council meeting possible to share residents’ concerns.

“All I can try and do is make my voice heard on behalf of the residents and that’s what I’m promising to do.”

Charles Bamford, Labour

Charles Bamford has worked in Kingston’s charity sector for a decade. Photo: Kingston and Surbiton Labour

Charles Bamford does not believe that having his mum as the former councillor for the ward is a distraction to his campaign, rather the opposite: “It’s part of what’s made me passionate about getting involved in the community and serving the community as well,” he said.

Charles, who has worked in the borough’s voluntary sector for 10 years, is keen to support young and vulnerable people in recovering from the Covid crisis.

“There’s been a huge impact on young people…we’ve seen a massive increase in mental health needs and young peoples’ anxiety to go out.

“As a councillor I would be looking to champion services that are supporting young people, children and families,” he said.

The father-of-one wants to support people hardest hit by the pandemic by improving accessibility and mobilisation of Council services. Other key priorities include protecting and enhancing local green spaces, ensuring proposed developments benefit the local community, and making services such as children’s centres and youth clubs more available.

Diversity of representation on the Council is also important for Charles, who feels that “adding another Liberal Democrat won’t do anything to address the diversity of thought on our Council”.

Residents have told him that they identify more as part of Surrey than Kingston, which he believes is due to lack of involvement in local decision-making.

“Chessington doesn’t want to be a satellite of Kingston. I’d be looking to extend local services and make them truly local to Chessington, and also, the decision making around those services needs to be local as well,” he said.

“I understand the importance of local conversations and I want to use that knowledge to serve the people of Chessington and represent them and stand up for them.”

Michelle Akintoye, Kingston Independent Residents Group

Michelle Akintoye was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s birthday honours list in 2012. Photo: Kingston Independent Residents Group

Nursery owner Akintoye’s key message is “unlocking Chessington’s potential”, something she feels the Lib Dems have failed to do.

One of her major priorities is improving transport links in the borough, including revamping Chessington South train station, improving bus links and adding bicycle stands.

She said: “It’s not good for the confidence of students and residents that use the place on a daily basis…to come to a place that has been well forgotten, and the first sign is the train station, so that needs to be sorted out.”

Akintoye is another candidate determined to protect the green belt.

“What makes that special characteristic for the area? It’s the green belt. Right now most of the area is quite abandoned and it hasn’t been looked into. That needs to be revamped as soon as possible. That’s what makes Chessington,” she said.

Preventing the reduction of local police officers is one of her top priorities, as is improving amenities for young people, such as installing gyms in parks and restoring closed-down children centres.

Akintoye stood in the local election in 2010 and 2014, and has successfully campaigned against the closure of Kingston Hospital’s A&E and maternity units and to freeze council tax.

“I have always been an agent of change and I have always worked in the community,” she said. “But more needs to be done.”

She was recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours list in 2012 and granted the British Empire Medal (BEM) for her contribution to youth and community services.

Adrian Lulham, Green Party

Lulham could not be reached for interview. However, Green Party councillor Sharron Sumner recently tweeted that his campaign would focus on saving the green belt and fighting to give nurses a pay rise.

The Chessington Green Party also tweeted that there is “more to the borough than just the north” and implied that they would like to see a swimming pool in the ward.

So there we have it. A full list of those standing in the election (including no less than 13 members of the Monster Raving Loony Party) can be found here. Residents must register to vote by Monday, April 19 and postal votes must reach the Guildhall by April 20.

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