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Lib Dem candidate Lee Castle wearing a rosette, standing next to polling station sign outside the village hall.
Lee Castle outside Adisham Village Hall on polling day. Lee Castle/Liberal Democrats 4 May 2023

Lib Dems gain Little Stour and Adisham

(updated )


Liberal Democrat Lee Castle has won the City Council seat of Little Stour and Adisham with a majority of 851, taking it back from the Conservatives after eight years.

Mr. Castle, who lives in Littlebourne, secured 72% of the vote in his first election campaign. He had some hours to wait - it was almost 6pm before the result was announced at Canterbury's Westgate Hall, where counting of all 39 seats in 21 wards began Friday morning.

Half an hour later, it was all over. No single party had the required majority of 20 seats or more. The Conservatives, who lost 15 seats, finished in third place with 8 behind Labour (18) and the Lib Dems (9), and were forced to find a new leader as the country prepared to crown a new monarch.

Little Stour and Adisham result:





Lee Castle

Liberal Democrat



Hilary Scott




Paul O'Neill




Final council result: Labour 18 (+8), Lib Dems 9 (+3), Conservatives 8 (-15), Green Party 4 (+4) (Change on 2019 in brackets, not including by-elections.)

The close proximity of the Draft Local Plan consultation period and the local elections meant the vote effectively became a referendum on the proposals, including a 3,200 house new town between Adisham and Aylesham, and 1,000 more houses plus a "Country Park" in CCC and Dover District Council plans for adjacent plots of land north of Womenswold.

Meanwhile a controversial traffic-zoning scheme in the city centre attracted national media coverage, with Conservative Leader Ben Fitter-Harding also enduring months of criticism (and, eventually, even sympathy) in the weekly letters page of the local Kentish Gazette. Shortly before polling day, he wrote: "we hear you... and we want this taken out of the council's next plan".

It was a U-turn that came too late for him personally when, soon after 2 o'clock, council Returning Officer Tricia Marshall (day job: Head of Paid Service and Director of Corporate Services) announced that Mr. Fitter-Harding had lost his Chestfield seat to James Flanagan, a Liberal Democrat who had twice contested the parliamentary constituency.

Even so, it would be premature to suggest today's events mark the end of his political career - Mr. Fitter-Harding recently revealed to the Kentish Gazette he was seeking selection as the Conservative general election candidate.

Mr. Castle's victory represents the first Liberal Democrat success in Adisham since 2014, when his colleague Mike Sole won a highly-contested Barham Downs by-election following the death of Bill Oakey. A year later, following boundary changes, the Conservatives regained the new, larger, Little Stour and Adisham ward.

Walking through the village before the election, the result might have seemed inevitable, judging by the scattering of diamond-shaped, orange Lib Dem signboards but notable lack of blue Conservative posters.

Conservative candidate and Ickham resident Hilary Scott received 310 votes, but was always on the back foot having to defend unpopular plans introduced by her own party; 200 people from Adisham and surrounding villages attended an emergency meeting in Holy Innocents church last year.

Conservative support may also have suffered due to the absence of Councillor Louise Jones-Roberts, who did not supply updates to the Parish Council for much of her term of office, as well as a period of national turbulence for the party following the resignation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the brief tenure of Liz Truss.

Turnout was 50% on a warm, sunny spring day, up on 44% in 2019.

In Nailbourne, Adisham's neighbouring ward, Mr. Sole, one of the party representatives who met with CARE to discuss the Local Plan earlier this year, achieved a landslide victory in the second result of the day, holding his seat with 84% of the vote on a 51% turnout.

The Lib Dems pledged to pause the local plan process (as some 50 councils have done nationally) and completely remove R1 and R20 from it, should they win a majority.

Canterbury has been a Liberal Democrat led council in the past, but results in recent elections always made a Labour/Lib Dem coalition under "no overall control" far more likely, a scenario which risked being further complicated by the resignation of several Conservative councillors who then stood as independents. In the end, only the four main parties won seats, with the Greens also making gains.

From CARE's perspective, much will depend on the balance of any coalition (which could take many forms and involve the Lib Dems, Green Party or both) and it's approach to housing and development on greenfield land, as well as the results in Dover and what impact that has on the working relationship between both councils.

Dover District Council: Labour gain control of council from Conservatives. Labour 17 (+5), Conservatives 14 (-5), Others (Independent) 1. Majority required: 17.

Nationally, Labour's housing policy includes an annual target of 300,000 new houses – the upper end of a somewhat arbitrary figure from 2016, apparently based on unspecified Treasury "modelling" and cited in oral evidence from ministers to the House of Lord's economic affairs committee. However, in their meeting with CARE, the local Labour party did say they agreed with the so-called "Grampian Principle": that infrastructure must be provided first, before construction begins.

Whilst Labour did field a candidate here, Paul O'Neill did not canvass in the village and the party did not deliver any election leaflets. The Greens - who came fourth in 2019 and 2015 - did not stand this time, a reflection of the difficulty of vote-splitting in a first-past-the-post electoral system, and the need for all local parties to target their limited resources at specific seats.

The turnout across the district was 38.1%, marginally up on 36.2% in 2019, in a year when there was no simultaneous general election to boost participation, and despite the introduction of photo ID.

The new city councillors are not paid a salary, only an allowance.

They will meet to represent us for the first time on Wednesday 17 May.