Sevenoaks and Swanley small firms and shops face massive rate hikes

Posted on: February 22nd, 2017 by Alan Bullion No Comments

Plans to change business rates that will see massive rises for Sevenoaks and Swanley shops and other small businesses while going easy on off-shore multi-national internet giants have been slammed by the Liberal Democrats.

I have been talking to local small businesses about this revaluation, and the feedback I am getting is that many are extremely worried. Against a backdrop of increased rents and fierce competition from online retailers, many shops and small businesses are being punished by the Conservative government simply for committing to the economic life of their neighbourhoods.

Why should a local sandwich shop or café face a hike that could threaten its entire business, yet Amazon’s giant warehouses enjoy a tax cut?

If that were not galling enough, local firms have to pay increased business rates for improvements they make to properties that in many cases they don’t even own. Even the Conservatives should admit that this cannot be fair. It is time they held their hand up, admitted they have got this all wrong, and start again.

Vince Cable is chairing a commission for the Liberal Democrats to come up with a fair and effective system. The sad thing is that this was avoidable, but the Conservatives shelved a proposal from the Liberal Democrats during the last coalition government to reform the system.

Small business owners are already reeling from the Conservative Brexit government’s decision to go for a hard Brexit and take us out of the Single Market. Now they are being asked to pick up the tab while the government let big international business off the hook. This is yet another example of a Conservative Government that has lost any right to call itself ‘the Party of Business’.

Among the issues discussed by me at a meeting with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) at the 2015 General Election was reform of the current business rates system, a matter of major concern for many hard-pressed constituents.

I fully agreed with the FSB that business rates urgently need a radical overhaul and much greater simplification, especially as some businesses in the area are paying more in rates than rent, causing great hardship, and for some to wind up their companies, leading to increased unemployment.

Prompter payment of invoices and outstanding bills would provide a further lifeline, and needs more effective enforcement. Also improved access to credit from leading banks and other lenders would be welcome.

However, any reforms will realistically take five years to take full effect, equivalent to the life of this parliament and beyond, so some temporary relief would also be welcome for many firms.

Eight Good Reasons to vote for Robert Woodbridge on Thursday March 2nd – Your LOCAL Lib Dem candidate for Swanley White Oak ward

Posted on: February 20th, 2017 by Alan Bullion No Comments

Robert has lived in Swanley since 1972 and on White Oak since 1981, and is in touch with the needs and aspirations of the people who live here through daily contact when walking around his ward.

Robert has been defending the Green Belt in Swanley since 1999. He helped win the local community campaign to save the farmland behind Archer Way and is now fighting to protect the Birchwood school site, which Labour have proposed for a housing development.

Robert wants to see the Birchwood site re-opened for Swanley pupils, as Kent County Council says we will be short of many thousands of places for years to come if we do not build more schools.

Robert is an experienced Councillor and knows how to get things done. He served from 1999-2015 and was Leader of the Town Council in 2009/10.

Robert wants to restore Tory-run Swanley Town Council to its former glory, and is the only candidate asking where all the missing council revenue has gone. He wants to save the Olympic from being sold off like the Woodlands for housing, and for local people to have a full say in all future plans for the town, not being imposed from Conservatives in Sevenoaks, as with the ‘Mega Plan’.

Robert wants to restore Swanley Park and have the sports pitches in the park completed for local matches to take place.

Robert has opposed the 2017 Council Tax hikes supported by Labour and the Tories, which will hit the poorest pockets hardest.

Robert has always fought for the local environment. He pioneered the use of biodiesel in Town Council vehicles and the installation of solar panels on public buildings. He is now fighting to save ancient trees at the Woodlands through protection orders.

There was just ONE vote between Robert and the Tory candidate at the last White Oak by-election in October. Labour were in third place behind the Lib Dems.

Please vote for ROBERT WOODBRIDGE on Thursday March 2nd, and elect a Strong, Experienced and Vocal Voice for White Oak ward, who won’t be afraid to challenge authority on your behalf.

Polling stations will be open at the White Oak Bowls Centre in Garrolds Close, and the Drill Hall at the top of Swanley Lane, between 7am and 10pm.

Published and Promoted by Alastair McPherson on behalf of Robert Woodbridge and the Liberal Democrats all at 44 Well Road, Otford, Kent TN14 5PT.

Please sign our Sevenoaks Syrian Refugees Petition

Posted on: February 19th, 2017 by Alan Bullion

Sevenoaks Lib Dem Councillor Elizabeth Purves has submitted an e-petition to Sevenoaks District Council (SDC) which needs support, and we hope you may be interested in doing just that.

Hundreds of people have already signed, and it has made the front page of the Sevenoaks Chronicle.

The context is as follows:

In response to the crisis in Syria, the UK Government quite properly has set up the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme. This scheme involves taking identified vulnerable families straight from refugee camps in the Middle East and resettling them in the UK.

The refugees are given 5 years Humanitarian Leave to Remain and as such are able to work and claim benefits from day one. Every district in Kent except Sevenoaks has pledged to offer home/s to refugees under the Scheme.

The PETITION says:

We, the undersigned, petition the council to take part in the Kent Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme and pledge to provide at least one Syrian family a home in the next 5 years, as has every other District in Kent.

I hope you will want to join us and add pressure on the Sevenoaks District Council (SDC) to think again, by supporting the e-Petition at:$LO$=1 You will find 4th paragraph down, “view e-petitions received”. You have to register first.

Or please Google ‘Sevenoaks District Council Petitions’ and look for the 4th paragraph down.

We need at least 1,000 signatures across the hardcopy and e-Petitions before 6th April 2017 to force a debate in the SDC Chamber.

If you would prefer to sign the paper version of the petition, please contact Elizabeth at

Best Regards,
Cllr Elizabeth Purves, Sevenoaks Eastern ward

They don’t call the Tories the nasty party for nothing!

Posted on: February 17th, 2017 by Alan Bullion No Comments

It would seem that the Conservative party are in panic stations over the White Oak Lib Dem by-election candidate Robert Woodbridge.

In their latest leaflet, they complain about the non-attendance of the Lib Dem candidate at meetings held in Sevenoaks concerning the land behind Archer Way, and are unrepentant for doing so.

Of course, if they had bothered to ask our candidate, he would have explained why. It was because his wife Terri was in hospital at the time, having suffered a number of strokes, also covered by local papers such as the Gravesend Reporter, Sevenoaks Chronicle, and featured in the NHS story below on this website.

Our White Oak candidate was represented at these meetings by Lib Dem Councillor Dr Merilyn Canet who spoke on behalf of the residents.

We did not think that the Conservative party would stoop so low as to criticise someone for caring for a extremely sick wife with a life threatening illness.

But of course their cage has been severely rattled by Sevenoaks Conservative leader Peter Fleming trying to impose the mega-housing development in the first place on the people of Swanley, and then attempting to hurriedly backtrack on their original proposal before this critical by-election, caused by yet another resignation by one of their own councillors, following a string of defections and sackings.

An Archer Way resident who received the Conservative leaflet said:

“I really don’t like the way the Tories are using this Green Belt issue retrospectively to put their candidate in a good light. We all signed and it was definitely not political at the time.”

We have even had complaints about the wording from disgusted Tory party supporters who said it was desparately scraping up votes from the gutter. They are now switching their votes to us in protest.

We consider it appalling behaviour of the Conservative party to say that our candidate cannot be trusted on the Green Belt when during his previous years as a Swanley Councillor, he fought to preserve the Green Belt many times. This is a matter of public record in the Town Council’s minutes between 1999-2015.

Please be assured Robert and Merilyn will continue to fight against all attempts to build on precious Green Belt land across White Oak and Swanley at the March 2 by-election and beyond.

Robert Woodbridge and Cllr Merliyn Canet defending our Green Belt


Posted on: February 16th, 2017 by Alan Bullion No Comments




Robert started his campaign by promising to listen to people.
You told us what you want:
– the future for Swanley decided by Swanley people
– green spaces in and round our town kept safe
– Town Council services rebuilt, not sold off
– clear answers on where the town’s money went

Robert has campaigned on all these areas, and will be your
voice to change the Town Council.
Robert will hold your Council to account!


The win for local people on the green belt north of
Archer Way is a great example of working together.

Plans to build between Archer Way and the Olympic
came from Conservative Town Councillors in 2015, and
went into Sevenoaks District’s ‘Masterplan’

Liberal Democrat councillors at SDC helped make sure
Swanley residents’ petition to save the green belt was
heard by Sevenoaks Council. Then they helped the
cross-party effort to vote down the plan.


Last September hundreds of local people completed our Community Survey.
You want:
– safer streets, action on the volume and speed of traffic
– protection for open spaces and the green belt
– transport, schools and medical and other services to support new homes
– better shops, facilities for young and old, and affordable homes in Swanley


The latest failure at Swanley Park shows why we
need a new approach to running services in
Swanley. Conservative councillors sold the right to
run the park to the highest bidder. When the
company didn’t deliver, or pay, they were surprised.

It’s like the management failures at Woodlands and
Olympic which cost around £1 million. Conservative
dogma says that the only way to run community
services is by outsourcing. They are wrong.

To rebuild Swanley we must get the finances under
proper control, restore good management, and
involve local people in the way services are
delivered. Services should support the community.
And we should stop selling off Swanley’s assets.
The Olympic must not go the same way as Woodlands.


* Dedicated to Swanley and White Oak
* Determined to succeed for you
* Experienced to get things done

If you’d like to help or support us please mail us at, or
on Facebook – LiberalDemocratsAnewvoiceforSwanley. You can also contact, call 01322 667190 or write to Robert Woodbridge and the Swanley Liberal Democrat Team, 7 Garrolds Close, BR8 7BF.

Published and Promoted by Alastair McPherson on behalf of Robert Woodbridge and the Liberal Democrats all at 44 Well Road, Otford, Kent TN14 5PT.

It’s snowing in Swanley – but Robert’s winning team are out in force!

Posted on: February 12th, 2017 by Alan Bullion No Comments

RW Swanley Canvassing leaflet mc version copy

The weather was snowy and cold, but spirits were warm on the weekend campaign trail in Swanley, as Lib Dem Town Council candidate Robert Woodbridge and his winning team took to the streets of White Oak ward. Come and help us take White Oak from the Tories on Thursday March 2nd by electing Robert Woodbridge!

Former Swanley Mayor Janet Sargeant supports Robert Woodbridge for White Oak: “Robert’s first and foremost priority is the residents of the ward where he lives and would be elected to serve. He is a voice of wide experience, and strongly believes in Democracy and Transparency, and the right for the public to debate matters, and not just ‘nod’ them through the Council Chamber, as the ruling Tories do.”

Sevenoaks and Swanley Lib Dems slam longest ever NHS op ban

Posted on: February 3rd, 2017 by Alan Bullion

Longest ever operation ban enforced across West Kent as ‘long waiting’ times double amid overcrowded wards and threats to cut back A&E services, which saw the worst waiting times in January for the past 13 years. (more…)

Vote for Robert Woodbridge – your local Lib Dem candidate for White Oak

Posted on: January 29th, 2017 by Alan Bullion

WhiteOakFeb17  Download our latest election leaflet here

Swanley Poster  Download and display your winning poster here 

You have a golden opportunity to change White Oak for the better at the next Swanley town council by-election on Thursday March 2.

Your Liberal Democrat candidate, Robert Woodbridge, has lived with his family right at the heart of the White Oak community for many years.

Robert is well-respected for his hard work and dedication in helping local people with many issues, and highly experienced as a former councillor and council leader, as endorsed by several prominent former Swanley town mayors.

Barrie Wigg, who was Mayor of Swanley from 2005/2006, has endorsed Robert as follows:

“There are lots of problems in Swanley, which need to be tackled, and Robert Woodbridge is a man who is not afraid to fight for what he believes in. He is an extremely hard working man, who works tirelessly for his local community and is very familiar with council rules and regulations.”

Conservative council follies

In contrast, since they took control of the Town Council, the Conservatives have systematically undermined Swanley through their sheer financial incompetence and mismanagement of what were once profitable local community assets such as the Woodlands and the Olympic, which they are now looking to sell off and build on to prevent further decline of their own making.

This latest by-election is a result of further resignations from fed-up Tory town councillors, following several defections such as the Mayor, his wife and others.

Only Robert Woodbridge is holding the ruling Tories to account for where the missing £800,000 has gone and for vital local facilities to be saved for all. The latest example is the losses from a contract awarded by the Tories to an outside contractor for Swanley Park.

It was also Conservative policy to build thousands of houses on fields at Archer Way, which has now fortunately been resoundingly defeated through community action.

Local Lib Dems campaigned vigorously for the defeat of Fleming’s folly and welcome the victory. Questions remain however about who would have benefited financially from the proposed development.

We have instead identified several brownfield sites in Swanley that could be used for more affordable housing to avoid Green Belt use in the future.

Both the Tories and Labour have voted to increase your Swanley Town council tax at above the inflation rate this year.

Lacklustre Labour opposition

Voting Labour will also not help to improve matters for people on White Oak. They have been spectacularly lacklustre in opposition to Tory policy in Swanley both on the council and mega-housing development proposals, being much more preoccupied with loyally supporting the actions of their leader Jeremy Corbyn and his Momentum acolytes at national level, in the process alienating many of their former Swanley councillors and voters.

What is more surprising still is that Labour has selected a candidate from neighbouring Christchurch ward to stand in White Oak, Jackie Griffiths, who is now calling for another housing development on the Birchwood school site, against local wishes.

Remember, Labour was beaten into third place at the last White Oak by-election in October, which Robert missed taking from the Tories by just one vote. Voters are increasingly calling for positive change from the two tired old parties in Swanley by voting Liberal Democrat.

Please rest assured, Robert Woodbridge and his Lib Dem team will continue to vigorously oppose all Green Belt housing development proposals from the Tories and Labour across White Oak, both at Archer Way and Birchwood school.

Robert will not only listen, but will speak out and act on behalf of local people. Both the little and big things that need fixing in Swanley matter to him.

Michael Fallon vainly tries to over-rule his own government!

Posted on: January 26th, 2017 by Alan Bullion No Comments

Comment from Alan Bullion, Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesman for Swanley and Sevenoaks

Local MP Sir Michael Fallon may well say he wants to stop housing being built on Green Belt areas of Swanley and Sevenoaks. The trouble is that the policy to build 1 million new homes across the country by 2020 was set by his own Conservative government. And councils that fail to set their own targets on how to achieve this will have developments imposed from above. Indeed, some have already been named and shamed.

Simply put, there is a set “housing delivery test” which ranks how many homes are being delivered by each council. Those that fall short and fail to meet local housing targets will see the Tory government imposing “new settlements” on them. This can include larger garden towns, similar to the one in Swanley being supported by Conservative-run Sevenoaks District Council in Sevenoaks.

These changes are the first major reforms to the new National Planning Policy Framework which was introduced in 2012. This abuse of Green Belt is being vehemently fought by the Campaign for Rural England and the National Trust, arguing that any new homes should first be built on brownfield sites, and not on our green fields, farms, and woodlands, which would permanently destroy large parts of our precious countryside.

Please rest assured. Your local Lib Dems will also vigorously oppose any encroachments by housing of our Green Belt land on the Archer Way and Birchwood sites in Swanley, and Knole Park and other open spaces and woodlands across Sevenoaks.

Theresa May, Brexit, and Article 50

Posted on: January 26th, 2017 by Alan Bullion No Comments

Comment: May’s ‘Flexi-Brexit’ – the devil is still in the lack of detail

By tantalising the British and EU politicians and public with some revealing details, inevitably there are more questions than answers, and it still seems like an Alice in Wonderland style ‘Flexi-Brexit’ – whatever I say today Brexit is, that is what it is.

In fact, May’s latest pronouncements differ little from what she said in the immediate aftermath of the referendum result, when she told us that the UK government would neither opt for a Norwegian- or Switzerland-style solution.

But by focusing on a ‘free trade’ scenario, without the concomitant freedom of movement of farm labour from the rest of the EU, however May throws up a series of further conundrums.

So far, environment secretary Andrea Leadsom has hinted that some sort of replacement to the SAWS scheme might come into the post-Brexit scenario, combined with more domestic apprenticeships and robotic replacements for horticultural pickers.

The direction of travel on early trade talks with key agricultural producers such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand will most probably alarm the NFU and other farm trade associations. Cheaper imports of beef and lamb may well be on the agenda table, while the US talks may be problematic on sticking points such as genetically modified (GM) crops, chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef.

But May’s speech should help placate the crop protection industry, with its references to science and technological-based solutions, as they see this as a potential path to UK legislation for active ingredients such as neonics based upon a less emotive and more evidence based platform.

The main challenge going forward will be similar to the 1980s, where the last UK Conservative female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, built up a series of ‘enemies within’, such as Labour councils, coal miners, steel workers, and trade unions.

Today’s ‘enemies within’ are the awkward squad – the ‘fourth estate’ (aka ‘Remain’-leaning media who keep on hassling for further details); those 48% who voted for Remain and may not be reconciled to May’s healing balm; and the devolved assemblies – particularly Scotland and Northern Ireland, the latter now facing fresh elections on March 2.

The ‘enemies without’ are the EU 27 and their devolved assemblies, who will need to approve any future deals on the table. This is a risky strategy to adopt and in the end did for Thatcher as her initial overwhelming popularity waned, terminally undermined by her own MPs.

But for now, Theresa May has essentially based her model on the strict majoritarian principle of ‘winner takes all’, which has traditionally dominated the UK electoral system.

What started out as largely a fringe movement in the Conservative Party has now become the political mainstream, driven by the rising fear of UKIP, and the Tory ‘enemy within’ MPs who stirred the pot relentlessly over recent years, combined with a well-funded and highly persuasive newsprint campaign and now viral social media machine.

May also benefits from a weak and divided opposition from the Labour party, especially in the House of Commons. There will be challenges and hurdles ahead – in Scotland and Northern Ireland, in the House of Lords, from protest marches, from more crowdfunded legal actions.

Even so, Article 50 may still be triggered on track this March, with the UK regretfully leaving the EU in spring 2019, despite 48% of us voting Remain.

However, putting the country together again now ‘Pandora’s Brexit Box’ has been opened, and securing those putative trade deals may take much longer and the panoply of opportunities now proclaimed prove more elusive.