First independent candidate in Heathfield by-elections for decades

4th May

Local authorities in East and West Sussex have polls taking place on May 6th which include county council elections. The UK Government previously postponed elections scheduled for 2020 due to Covid-19. The Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner election will take place on the same day.

There are vacancies in four Wards on Wealden District Council:

  • Hailsham North Ward
  • Hailsham South Ward
  • Heathfield North Ward
  • Heathfield South Ward

There are candidates representing the Conservatives, The Green Party, Labour, The Liberal Democrats and the Social Democratic party. You can find the names of the candidates here https://www.wealden.gov.uk/UploadedFiles/SPN-District-060521.pdf

But what drives someone to decide to run for election with no previous experience in politics?

Standing for Heathfield South, Cross in Hand resident Kevin Benton believes he is the first independent candidate on the Heathfield ballot papers in around 20 years.

He says he was so disillusioned with the quality of the vast majority of local councillors that he decided to do something about it.

Kevin Benton

“There’s no point moaning if you don’t do anything. I am concerned about infrastructure and planning and I am fed up with the bias that seems to prevail at all levels. I decided to run as an independent as I was not prepared to put myself at the mercy of local parties and I wanted to be able to put the views across of local people as they are not being listened to,” he said

For 35 years entrepreneur Kevin owned and ran successful engineering manufacturing company Aerem in Uckfield. He was responsible for employing and training young Sussex people and providing jobs for the local community, selling and negotiating internationally. He now wants to devote his time to the local community.

“I grew up in East Sussex and have lived in the county all of my life. I live in Cross in Hand with my wife Jenny, who is a biologist, and we have a Spaniel called Poppy to keep us young and exercised. I want to ensure that the views and concerns of local people are acted upon by the council, that our beautiful countryside is protected and that promises are met with real change,” Kevin stressed.

One of the issues he is keen to highlight is what he describes as the land banking scandal. Kevin explains: “We are still waiting for building to start on over 8,000 houses in Wealden. Permission has been granted by your elected councillors, but building has still not commenced – why? This is known as “land banking”, a trick that developers play to control houses prices. The logic is simple, hold back from building, prices and profits go up, but the young people of Heathfield suffer.

“Wealden District Council’s housing supply policy actively encourages this activity, and the policy has led to the granting of inappropriate developments which are not in the local interest.

“To illustrate, Boris Johnson announced this week that the target for 300,000 new homes a year to be built is well within their grasp and that in the past 12 months a figure of 240,000 had been achieved. It seems that the figure claimed, 240,000, is somewhat disingenuous as it refers to permissions given I am told, not houses built, and that figure includes conversions of redundant commercial buildings into houses not new builds and also permissions for static mobile homes. The real figure of actual houses built in 12 months is a fraction of what is being claimed. In Wealden area there are over 8,000 yes 8,000, planning permissions granted that are not built.”

In his campaign leaflet Kevin also mentions the inadequate sewerage systems in Wealden and the need for investment as well as the need to address environmental issues.

In his spare time Kevin helps with work at Darches Wood and the Cross in Hand Amenities Society with his wife Jenny who is a professional biologist. Kevin is a keen sportsperson and has played rugby for local teams, being a member of Heathfield and Waldron RFC, stoolball for Five Ashes and is a former competitive cyclist – using the climb from Uckfield to Heathfield as part of his training. He is also a musician and regularly plays at local pubs when permitted. You can contact Kevin on kbentonindependent@gmail.com 

In Hellingly, locals will also be taking part in the Hellingly Neighbourhood Planning Referendum which aims to aims to:

To protect the rural character of the Parish, and to retain the separate character and identity of the four main settlements in the Parish (Hellingly Village, Lower Horsebridge, Lower Dicker and Roebuck Park).

It is intended to cover the period up to 2028 and its essential vision is that the growth proposed for Hellingly Parish within any emerging Wealden Plan will be delivered, with all appropriate supporting infrastructure and in the most suitable locations locally, and that Hellingly will remain an essentially rural parish providing a green and accessible lung for the growing town of Hailsham.

Chairman Hellingly Parish Council David White explains: “If the Plan receives approval from over 50% of those parishioners voting, it will become a Statutory Planning Document and form part of the development plan used by Wealden District Council when it considers any planning applications in Hellingly Parish.”

Also up for election is the role of the Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC). The position holder is responsible for setting the strategic objectives for policing in Sussex. This includes setting and updating a police and crime plan, setting the force budget and precept, and appointing, and where necessary dismissing, the Chief Constable. The Police & Crime Panel plays a key role in scrutinising decisions made by the commissioner in connection to these responsibilities.

These arrangements are designed to increase transparency of the delivery of policing services and to give the public the ability to ensure their police are accountable. As such the Chief Constable of Sussex Police is accountable to the commissioner, and the commissioner is accountable to the electorate.

Police & Crime Commissioners are elected every four years. You can find out more here: https://1rbena1k2rviaenzl3kexmgl-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/CCS118_CCS0221090342-036_PCC-Sussex_Web-Accessible.pdf