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Tories lose control at NDC

By This is Devon  |  Posted: May 12, 2011

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THE Conservative reign at North Devon Council ended at the ballot box last week as independent candidates took major political scalps.

The Tories, who had been in control since the 2007 election, following 17 years of Lib Dem dominance, won the greatest number of seats – but not enough to form an administration.

That left North Devon with no overall political control for the first time since the 1980s.

A leading independent told the Journal he expected to reach a power-sharing deal with the Lib Dems this week, potentially leaving the Tories on the margins.

Until the election on Thursday last week there were 22 Conservative members, 17 Lib Dems, three independents, and one non-aligned.

After the poll, there were 18 Conservatives (four fewer), 14 Lib Dems (three fewer), and 11 independents (seven more).

The situation was a milder version of what happened nationally, with the Lib Dems losing hundreds of seats across the country.

Veteran members were among those defeated, while others abandoned party allegiences to successfully stand as independents, including ex-Tory Rodney Cann and ex-Lib Dem Malcolm Prowse.

Mr Cann, an emerging leader of an independent bloc, told the Journal the result was a blow for the Conservatives, who he claimed had lost power because of lack of achievements locally.

He was considering an offer to form a loose coalition with the Lib Dems, although he said the Tories had also come forward with a deal.

Over the next few days negotiations will continue.

But Lib Dem leader Brian Greenslade has already ruled out a coalition with the Conservatives.

And he said the Lib Dems had "bucked the trend" by not losing many councillors, and he hoped all members would be mature enough to work together for the good of North Devon.

The sitting Conservative councillors who lost included John Gill and Dick Jones, both in Fremington, which has been plagued by parish council bickering.

The other Tories who lost were: Sue Sussex, Combe Martin; Colin Wright, Ilfracombe West; and Silvia Harrison, who contested Barnstaple Yeo Valley but had been a Barnstaple Longbridge councillor.

And the sitting Lib Dems who were beaten were: Chris Haywood, contested Barnstaple Newport but had held Yeo Valley, Carol McCormack-Hole, Bickington and Roundswell, and Sue Sewell, South Molton.

There are ten new councillors, most of whom have experience as parish councillors.

The new arrivals are: Joanne Bell (Ind, Fremington); Frank Biederman (Ind, Fremington); Adam Bradford (Lib Dem, Barnstaple Central); Lesley Brown (Lib Dem, Barnstaple Yeo Valley); Julia Clark (Ind, Combe Martin); Jackie Flynn (Con, Barnstaple Longbridge); Julia Gurney (Lib Dem, Lynton and Lynmouth); Brian Hockin (Ind, Bickington and Roundswell); Glyn Lane (Cons, Landkey, Swimbridge And Taw); and John Moore (Ind, South Molton).

There were 36 Conservative candidates, 33 Lib Dems, 20 Independents, 17 Greens, 10 Labour, two TUSC Against Cuts, one Communist, and one UKIP vying for North Devon Council seats.

The majority of electors – more than half of those eligible – did not vote in the district council ballot.

For comparison, at the 2007 election, 60 per cent of electors – about 51,000 people – did not vote, meaning turnout was slightly higher this year, at 45 per cent.

The highest turnout was in Bratton Fleming (63 per cent) while the lowest was in Forches And Whiddon Valley (30 per cent).

There were poor turnouts in the populous wards of Barnstaple Central (34 per cent) and Barnstaple Yeo Valley (34 per cent).

In Yeo Valley, for example, 2,249 electors did not vote. The 1,277 votes garnered by the two elected councillors represented just 37 per cent of the total electorate. That meant 63 per cent of electors in Yeo Valley did not vote for the councillors who won.

The district council is responsible for rubbish collection, recycling, street cleaning, planning, environmental health, and licensing.

It sold its housing stock in 2000 but has a role as a "strategic" authority.

It owns a number of assets, such as car parks and buildings, and pays subsidies to organisations such as the North Devon Theatres Trust.

Many key council functions – such as education, social care and highways – are dealt with by Devon County Council. The election last week was nothing to do with the county council.

In terms of council tax, about 70 per cent goes to the county council and about 10 per cent to North Devon Council. The remainder is shared among the police authority, the fire authority, and parish councils.

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