John Holland takes over as Ashford Mayor

Monday, May 18, 2009
6:03 PM

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As he prepared to take centre stage as the undoubted star of the annual civic meeting Cllr John Holland admitted he was excited at the prospect of becoming first citizen of Ashford, writes Mike BennettAs the 36th to hold office in the borough he relishes the responsibility of being the figurehead during a year in office but conceded he had butterflies as he faced the pomp and ceremony - and the possibility of a challenge.Traditionally Mayor-making is a non-political gathering featuring much backslapping and praise as one is selected unanimously to be elevated to thehighest office.In a packed council chamber a gallery of ex-Mayors joined friends and family all wishing him well, but few realised there had been a last ditch effort to scupper the election by Ashford Independent leader Cllr Peter Davison.He lodged a formal complaint that Cllr Holland had breached the council's code of conduct by putting himself forward as deputy Mayor last year and sought to disadvantage another member (Cllr Palma Laughton) by misleading councillors about her ability to serve a second term.Just six days before the ceremony the matter was taken to the council's assessment panel for investigation and cleared.Despite that decision Cllr Davison failed to appear until after the election, but his deputy leader Cllr Laughton and Cllr Jack Woodford both abstained from supporting the new Mayor and his deputy, Labour's Cllr Allen Wells with his daughter Sara Amess as consort.As the first Independent Mayor Cllr Holland, 78, was a former member of Ashford Independent group until he resigned to join his proposer Cllr David Smith.After education at Norton Knatchbull Grammar he worked in accounts and sales for British Rail until 1971 when he became a self-employed salesman for 35 years until retirement.During his time with the railways he first entered politics through the trade union. He admitted he would have liked to be an MP and just missed out the chance of being named the Union nomination for the Canterbury seat.Elected as a Labour member of the old Ashford urban council in 1953 he served 12 years rising to vice-chairman.Those were times of great change and he fought against the London overspill agreement planning Stanhope as he felt the buildings too concentrated, and he was against the infamous ring road.He conceded it was needed to ease traffic but fought for it to be two-way rather than the racetrack it became and now has been proved right.Although he lost both at the time one successful campaign was to press for Batchelors canning factory on a greenfield site. The coming of the plant was the launch of the new industrial revolution of the town that had always relied on the railway and farming.At the time he was a man of considerable influence until one fateful vote proved his undoing.There was a gentleman's agreement that chairman of the urban council wereelected for two years in order of seniority and those nominated were not allowed to vote.He took the chair when his leader Charles Doe was proposed for a third year against Conservative Sidney Ford. With an equal vote Cllr Holland cast his for the Tory and as a result his Labour party membership was withdrawn.At the next election he stood as an Independent and was defeated.For the past 23 years he has served on Kingsnorth parish council, including chairman for 16 years. He was elected to the borough council as Independent member for Washford  Farm ward in 2003.His second wife of 17 years Gillian, who works at Kingsnorth primary school, will act as his Mayoress and during the years their charity efforts will support Macmillan Nurses, Ashford Access, and two smaller charities helping young people coping with challenges, Ashford Valley Riding for the Disabled and the Darts Academy.

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