Kingston Councillor Jon Tolley has quit Kingston Liberal Democrats, citing serious policy concerns and differences of opinion he shares with the group's leadership.

Tolley is a well-known figure in Kingston who owns and runs legendary record store Banquet Records, and announced his decision in a number of Twitter posts published yesterday (Monday, September 6).

The councillor said in the posts that he was opposed to a number of policy decisions made by the ruling Liberal Democrats on Kingston Council recently, foremost of which was their approach to the disputed redevelopment of the Kingfisher Leisure Centre and associated 'Transform Kingston' plans.

"I think the Transform Kingston plans - specifically on the Kingfisher - are not the right decisions, not deliverable and dishonest. The Kingfisher is in the ward I represent, and I can see it from my front door. We'd decided we were going to fix the roof and move along (the pool would have been open by now). That decision was changed and I didn't win the argument why I thought (and think) that the wrong call. Fair enough. That happens across a group of dozens of councillors. But my concern was (and is) that we're being inaccurate with timelines, costs and how sales of assets needed to finance the build will come about, and what this'll look like in real life..."

Tolley added that the "icing on the cake" had been the recent decision from Kingston Lib Dems not support rolling out the 20mph across Kingston Neighbourhood, which Tolley said was "the area most supportive of the speed limits", adding "I don't get who is making these decisions, or why".

Kingston Council, which is led by the ruling Lib Dems from which Tolley has now departed, said previously that the Leisure Centre would be knocked down rebuilt by October 2024 after debating how to resolve structural problems found in the roof.

Tolley said this suggestion on a timeframe, and subsequent reports about expected costs and sourcing of the funding, were unrealistic and as such effectively dishonest with people in the borough who have relied on the centre, which closed in 2019.

Speaking with the Surrey Comet after news of his resignation broke, the Kingston Councillor said:

"Someone else made the executive decision to investigate a redevelopment which isn't what we as a group decided... it came back to the group and either way it was decided that the redevelopment was the right thing to do. I didn't, I said: 'How are we going to pay for this?' We need to be honest with people that if the (additional) Cattlemarket development nearby is going to come, there are going to have to be high rises in the area. If that is the price of doing this, then I think we are being dishonest. We're not doing that, we're not talking about it.

"And if we commit to this, we are going to be in such a hurry to sell the assets to get the money to pay for this we're going to sell multiple council assets to the first buyer, because we'd need to sale, that's essentially it. I think we're rushing into it."

Tolley said that the timeline for the Kingfisher plans concerned him too because closing it for an extended redevelopment would impact children by limiting their access to early years learning like swim classes, and potentially making these more expensive after reopening.

"I don't think it's deliverable, I don't think we'll do it on time. It's completely avoidable. If we'd have just listened to experienced councillors who said these things...but it's inexperienced councillors making these decisions. But I hope I'm wrong.

We should be better than that. Especially as Lib Dems who have a reputation for breaking promises."

Tolley's decision prompted public reaction in a number of supportive tweets from people involved in local politics in Kingston.

Meanwhile, both the former and current leaders of Kingston Lib Dems commented on his decision, while Kingston Lib Dems also offered a statement.

A party spokesperson said they were "disappointed" with his decision but wished him well, adding their view that Tolley's support for fixing the roof of the Kingfisher "even though the centre is coming towards the end of its life" conflicted with their own plans for a much larger redevelopment.

Tolley for his part added: "We're making a stupid mistake. And it will cost the council millions because we're going to rush into sales quickly without getting the best deal for our assets. I hope I'm wrong."

He also stressed that his decision was about policy rather than personnel.