Councillor Jon Tolley holding a Skateboard

Kingston councillor who quit Lib Dems won’t stand in May election

A Kingston councillor who quit the ruling Liberal Democrat party after a disagreement on council policy has confirmed that he will not stand for re-election in May.

Councillor of seven years Jon Tolley was at odds with the council over the demolition and rebuilding of the Kingfisher Leisure Centre which sits in his ward.

The 44-year-old has been operating as an independent since leaving the Lib Dems, but last week he told SWL he won’t be standing in the May elections because of the falling out.

Tolley said: “I think we were lying to the public, so I didn’t want to be a part of that anymore.

“The decision to close the leisure centre and knock it down to build something bigger and better wasn’t necessarily the right decision. I don’t think we’ve got the money to do it.

“I can handle the wrong decision being made, that’s democracy. I lost the vote, so be it.

“But what we were telling residents about when it would open is demonstrably untrue and I think it’s something that is not forgivable.

“We should just be telling people the truth We should say: ‘Do you know what, it’s going to be rubbish for the next few years, but it will be good come 2026.’ That’s a fair answer.

“Saying it’ll be open by 2023, when it’s already been delayed by a year, I think that’s not something I want to be a part of, and I’m surprised other people are okay with being a part of it.”

SET FOR DEMOLITION: Kingfisher Leisure Centre closure has proven controversial

The council has already revised the timelines and the leader who made the decisions for the plan has been changed, Tolley told SWL.

He hopes that it means the council has learnt and will move forward from the debacle.

Tolley said he has always been interested in his local area which is why he started his seven-year-long political career but the issues raised here has meant he doesn’t think it’s the right place for him to help his community.

He said: “I didn’t get into politics so that I could be a spin doctor.”

Tolley spoke about his life outside of the council where he owns a famous record shop in Kingston, Banquet Records which brings many big music stars to the area like Billie Eilish and Stormzy.

He said: “Sometimes it feels like I can do more for my for my community in the record shop than I can wearing a rosette.

“It’s annoying because I did think that I’d be doing this for decades. When you do achieve stuff it’s really good but, such is life.”

COMMUNITY MAN: Tolley at St John’s Church in Kingston

A spokesperson for Kingston Liberal Democrats responded to Tolley’s criticism saying the decision to rebuild the leisure centre had community support from over 75% residents and stakeholders alike and the option was chosen over repairing the roof.

They added: “Commissioned reports advised that the building had already reached the end of its life, and the projected costs of £5 million were not a good use of the council’s limited resources.

“The new centre is affordable for the council and is part of the Capital Expenditure Programme approved in this year’s budget earlier this month at Budget Council.

“During this meeting, the affordability was made clear and Tolley did not raise any objections.

“Furthermore, as soon as the decision to rebuild was made, planning started immediately and a planning application has already been submitted and will be up for a approval this summer.

“We are on track for a late 2024 open of the facility and that the timings stated are a matter of public record.

“Tolley’s claim that the project is scheduled to be completed in 2026 is simply not true.”

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