Conservatives maintain control of Devon County Council despite losses

Cllr John Hart, leader of Devon County Council

Cllr John Hart, leader of Devon County Council - Credit: Daniel Clark

The Conservatives have retained control of Devon County Council for another for years – but with a reduced majority. 

The Conservative Party now holds five of the eight North Devon seats and all of five of the county council election seats in Torridge. 

Under John Hart’s leadership, the Conservative Party has been in charge of the council since 2009, and Thursday’s local elections saw it stretch that reign until 2025. 

Coming into the vote, the Conservatives held 41 of the 60 seats, but they only held onto 39 following the conclusion of the counting on Saturday. 

Devon County Council composition

Devon County Council composition - Credit: DCC

The Liberal Democrats gained three seats to become the official opposition on nine, while Labour gained one seat in Exeter to end on seven. 

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The Green Party gained a seat in Broadclyst, as well as holding on to Totnes and Dartington, to return two councillors, while three Independents were elected (in Fremington Rural, Otter Valley and Newton Abbot South). 

The Conservatives remain in control of the council, although their majority is slightly down on how they went into the elections with. 

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Cllr John Hart, leader of the council, who retained his Bickleigh and Wembury seat, said: “I’m very grateful to everyone who voted – no matter which party they chose – in difficult circumstances. 

“We shall continue to govern in Devon for the benefit of the county as a whole and for all our residents. 

“They’ve shown great resilience over the past year in ensuring we’ve had some of the lowest Covid infection figures throughout the pandemic. 

“But now, with the success of the vaccination programme and the Bank of England’s optimistic forecast for the national economy, we have got to focus on regenerating the Devon economy and driving the strongest possible recovery. 

“We mean to get back to work immediately for the benefit of everyone in the county. We have ambitious plans for a cleaner, Greener Devon with a thriving economy. We can’t create jobs but we can provide the right climate for business to create jobs. 

“We invested £4 million in the Future Skills Centre at Exeter Airport to help train our young people – and anyone else wanting to change career or re-skill – so that they can find good, well-paid jobs in the careers of the future. 

“We are working closely with South Hams District and Plymouth City councils on the new Plymouth and South Devon Freeport. 

“We’ve supported work hubs where small businesses or start-ups can hire office space and equipment. There are currently 15 across the county and we’re planning at least seven more. 

“Over the next two years, we’ve set aside £6.2 million to provide support to help businesses regenerate and our economy recover. 

“We are supporting tourism, hospitality and local producers as our economy continues to re-open. We’ve launched a major Made in Devon marketing campaign to support and promote county businesses to local people and visitors alike. 

“This is already supporting food producers and agriculture and will back tourism and hospitality as the restrictions are lifted. 

“We are backing the roll-out of fast broadband for rural Devon. An £80 million pound programme is under way in Devon and Somerset which will help to halt the digital divide between rural and urban communities in our county. 

“We’re now working on major improvements to the North Devon link road, work’s starting on the facilities to allow passenger rail services from Okehampton to Exeter to re-start and we’re beginning work on the new rail station at Marsh Barton to serve the industrial estate there from both Teignbridge and East Devon. 

“And we are very mindful that we have to do all this and get the recovery going whilst keeping our promise to reduce carbon emissions. 

“Across the county council, we’ve cut our carbon footprint by almost half and we’re on target to become net-zero carbon by 2030. 

“We will continue to invest in LED lighting on our streetlights. That both saves money but also cuts our carbon emissions. 

“There will be more charging points for electric cars, solar panels on the roofs of our buildings and we are looking for more land to plant trees to offset our carbon footprint. 

“There’s a lot to do as we recover from the pandemic and I can’t wait to get back to work.” 

County Hall in Exeter, home of Devon County Council

County Hall in Exeter, home of Devon County Council - Credit: Daniel Clark

Cllr Sara Randall Johnson, who retained her Broadclyst seat on Saturday added: “It is very clear that the Conservatives and Team Devon have been returned to the authority. I will be working for the people and making sure that we look after them. That is my priority and has always been so,” with her also paying tribute to some of the younger Conservative candidates who stood but didn’t win. 

Cllr Jeff Trail, who kept his Exmouth seat, added: “This has been great for the Conservative party and we will work as a team to do the work we said we would do, have been doing, and will continue to do.” 

It was two days of little change, with only a handful of seats changing hands, including the Conservatives regaining Bideford West and Hartland from a former-Conservative-turned-Independent, while Phil Bullivant took Newton Abbot North from the Liberal Democrats, and Marcus Hartnell gained Seaton and Colyton from the East Devon Alliance. 

The Liberal Democrats took Barnstaple South, South Brent and Yealmpton, Dawlish and Teignmouth from the Tories, to leave them on nine seats, although Newton Says No candidate Janet Bradford took the Newton Abbot South seat from them, to leave them as the official opposition on the council again. 

Cllr Alan Connett, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Devon County Council

Cllr Alan Connett, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Devon County Council - Credit: Daniel Clark

Cllr Alan Connett, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “I am delighted that we gave put on three seats but we do have a job of work to do holding the Conservatives to account. It is a tired administration at County Ahll and won’t be much change, so our job will be to promote to the people of Devon the things that are important, fixing the roads, mending children’s services, the economy, how we recover from Covid. What I want is a willingness from the Conservatives to work together on mending Devon’s economy. 

“This is part of the journey back. We knew it would be a long haul and we are up for the fight and we are up to work with the administration when they have sensible ideas which are good for the people of Devon. But they haven’t fixed the roads and for eight long years children’s services has been inadequate and it has got to stop.” 

On a difficult day for Labour nationally, the party held onto all seven seats in Exeter, but failed to make any gains in the city or elsewhere. 

Group leader Cllr Rob Hannaford said: “I am absolutely thrilled we have held all seven seats in Exeter. We have a fantastic team of county councillors who will bring a lot of strength and experience to County Hall. We will move forward with confidence and hold the administration to account. In Exeter, we have bucked the national trend. Labour nationally clearly had a difficult round of elections but in Exeter we have held our own as we keep the campaign local, but I am disappointed more progress outside Exeter wasn’t made. 

“We will be a constructive opposition, if they are doing the right thing, we will back it, but if it needs to change, we will raise issues and lobby and get things done.” 

The most votes went to Jess Bailey, an Independent who took the Otter Valley seat with more than 3,000 votes, taking over from Claire Wright. 

Cllr Bailey said: “I am absolutely thrilled and stunned and so grateful for all who voted for me. I am absolutely delighted and I want to say thank you to all those who voted for me. One of priorities will be the state of the roads, road safety, patchy broadband, Tipton St John school, and I am absolutely thrilled.” 

Cllr Henry Gent, the Green party councillor who won the Broadclyst seat from a Conservative, added: “Thank you to the votes here how have realised that if you want Green, you must vote Green. As a Green I care for this patch of earth, the local people, and all our posterity. 

“The only promise I make as a Green county councillor is to work hard and do my best for the people and place that I love most in the world.” 

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