North Devon’s Liberal Democrats were celebrating this morning (Friday, May 3) as the party closed in on control of North Devon Council.

The Lib Dems made huge gains at the polls in Thursday's local elections, winning 21 of the 41 seats announced in the early hours of Friday morning on a night of big changes in North Devon.

With 13 councillors from the last council not standing this time around there were always going to be plenty of changes. David Worden's group has nine more seats than at the end of the last term. In contrast, the Conservatives, who had control of the council before the vote, lost seven seats, including long-standing Bickington councillor Rodney Cann.

There was also success for the Green Party, who won two seats on the council for a first in North Devon. Netti Pearson was elected for Ilfracombe West and Robbie Mack will represent Barnstaple Central.

Independent councillors fared well again, with seven winning seats. Labour and UKIP failed to make any inroads at district level, with neither party winning a seat.

North Devon Liberal Democrats' leader David Worden, who was elected in South Molton, said he was 'absolutely over the moon'.

"This is something we've been wanting and waiting for for a very long time," he said. "This is an absolutely fabulous night for the North Devon Liberal Democrats, something on which we can build and make sure that Kirsten [Johnson, Liberal Democrat PPC] is our next MP."

Dr Johnson added: "We didn't know what was going to happen. We could tell by talking to people on doorsteps that a lot of people weren't going to vote and were completely disaffected by what they have seen nationally with the Conservative and Labour vote. So we knew we might see something special but we weren't sure. It's been an exhilarating and thrilling evening."

North Devon Liberal Democrats were able to celebrate big gains on the night. Picture: Matt SmartNorth Devon Liberal Democrats were able to celebrate big gains on the night. Picture: Matt Smart

Turnout for the elections was the lowest in more than 20 years, with just 37.3 per cent of the electorate in North Devon casting votes, with many apparently turned off by national politics and Brexit.

The Conservatives bore the brunt of that apathy. They were expecting to lose some seats on the night, but perhaps not as many as the seven they did, including long-standing councillor Rodney Cann, who along with Jackie Flynn was ousted by three Lib Dems.

Jasmine Chesters and former deputy leader of the council Pat Barker both held seats on the council, but by the finest of margins, with three votes separating them and Adam Bradford.

Swansong after 40 years

Long-standing Bickington councillor Rodney Cann, who was deposed by Liberal Democrat candidates, missing out on being re-elected by 68 votes

"I have been very grateful for the opportunity to serve the people of the Bickington area since 1976 and I wish my successors well.

"I am proud of some of the things I have achieved, such as the restoration of Fremington Quay and the setting up of the Instow to Appledore ferry.

"We have faced a number of challenges, not least the Tews Lane school application which I have called in on the planning committee.

"I think there's some very difficult times ahead, particularly with the highways issues over Tews Lane."

Bad night for the Conservatives

North Devon's Conservative MP Peter Heaton-Jones said there was 'no getting away' from this being a disappointing night for the local poarty.

He said: "But at this mid-term point in the electoral cycle, it was always going to be a very difficult election for us.

"We had a lot of seats to defend, because the last council elections were held on the same day as the 2015 general election. Also, some of our most experienced councillors have retired.

"But despite all that, the LibDems have failed to take overall control of North Devon, unlike councils elsewhere.

"They lost a seat in South Molton, where we elected our first Conservative councillor for more than 20 years. And they also lost in their heartland of Barnstaple Central as well.

"Of course this result has no bearing on the general election, whenever it happens. It's been hard to motivate the Conservative vote for these local elections, and independent candidates and ward boundaries skew the figures too.

"I congratulate all the winning candidates, and commiserate with those hard-working councillors who have lost their seats. I look forward to working with the council to continue to get the best for North Devon."

How the North Devon Council make up has changed from 2007 to 2019