EXETER’S Labour Party has strengthened its hold on the city council.
Although there is still no overall control, Labour now has 19 seats, gaining four seats on election night in Alphington, Heavitree, Exwick and Cowick.
The Conservatives still have 11 seats – they lost Cowick but gained a seat in St Loye’s and the Lib Dems lost two seats – in Alphington and Exwick.
There is now only one Liberal on the city council – Councillor Joan Morrish will be on her own after fellow Liberal David Morrish stepped down in Heavitree and in St Loye’s Margaret Danks’ seat went to Conservative David Henson, the husband of Tory leader Yolonda.
Exeter’s Labour leader, Councillor Pete Edwards, admitted that he was surprised his party had gained as many as four seats.
Cllr Edwards said: “I thought we were going to gain one, at Exwick, but to take another three is great.
“We held Alphington as a county seat once but never for the city council.”
The council leader said there was much work to be done in the aftermath of the election.
“Our main job is the restructuring of the city council which desperately needs doing.
“We also want to attract business people to the city and we don’t want to do anything to damage the success of the city,” he said.
He said creating a new city swimming pool was still on the agenda.
Cllr Edwards said: “This will be a mid-term aim, perhaps a few years away, but the city does need a new swimming pool as we can’t keep spending money on the old pool at the Pyramids.
“Some day, someone is going to come knocking on my door and say that it needs £500,000 spent on it and that would be a very difficult decision to have to make.”
Cllr Edwards also stressed that he was to continue his dialogues with Councillor John Hart, the leader of Conservative-led Devon County Council. He said conversations would continue about what is to happen with the money from the sale of Exeter International Airport.
The Echo’s Show us the Money campaign, which calls for the county council to spend the £10m set aside for the refurbishment of the city’s Central Library, in the city, is now in its 754th day.
The celebrations began early for Labour councillors with gains in Cowick and Exwick.
Loud cheers filled the Riverside leisure centre’s sports hall every time a winning seat for the party was declared, with the party taking seven of the 13 wards up for grabs.
And shock gains in Alphington and Heavitree – taken by Labour for the first time – led to rapturous applause for the winning councillors Margaret Clark and Greg Sheldon.
Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw described Labour’s success on the night as “amazing” and said the effect nationally would be “catastrophic” for the Government.
“It’s been a terrific night – better than we expected,” he told the Echo.
“We were confident of gaining Cowick and Exwick but Heavitree and Alphington, in particular, have been seats that Labour has never won before.
“It’s an amazing result and we came very close in St Thomas and St James as well.
“Alphington was the real shock of the night. We wouldn’t even let Margaret Clark, who won the seat, do very much campaigning – so she has done incredibly well.
“The result tonight has really strengthened Labour’s position on the council and is a good basis to build on in the future.
“If the rest of the country is voting the way the people of Exeter have, it is a catastrophic night for the Government and Nick Clegg in particular.”
Exeter’s Conservative leader Yolonda Henson has spoken to the Echo about her disappointment over the loss of the Cowick seat, previously held by Jeff Coates, who decided not to stand again.
And she said that a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition was unlikely.
Cllr Henson said: “A coalition is very remote – we have no meetings planned to discuss this and it would be just as tight with a coalition as it would be with anything else.
“Cowick was always going to be difficult to hold and I feel very sorry for Jake Donovan who worked like a Trojan for us there and would have made an excellent young councillor. But it was not to be and we are very disappointed for him.”
With husband David winning the seat for St Loye’s, the Hensons now become the new husband and wife team on the city council.
Cllr Yolonda Henson said: “David did serve as a city councillor for two years, about 30 years ago, when there were boundary changes and I lost my seat for a time.”
The young hopeful of the night was the daughter of former Labour minister John Denham, Rosie Denham, who won Whipton Barton by a clear majority. The 24-year-old, who currently lives in St James, told the Echo she had been getting tips from her politician dad, who was born and brought up in Seaton, and now holds office as the shadow secretary of state for business, innovation and skills.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to have won Whipton Barton,” she said. “We were confident because the seat has been a strong ward for us but we have been out and about talking to people and we got the sense people were sticking with us.
“This is the first time I’ve stood as a councillor and it’s been a big learning curve.
“It is not my first time campaigning, though, and my dad has been giving me a few tips.
“Both my parents were councillors when they were younger, that is part of the reason I have been aware of local politics.
“I’m not sure if I will follow my dad into a career of politics – it’s not something I have ever really considered. I’ve done a law degree so I may follow that up further.”
But it was a disappointing election for the Lib Dems, despite group leader Adrian Fulham holding on to his seat in St Thomas.
He told the Echo: “We are very disappointed to have lost Alphington, which we have a long-established history with.
“We need to look at our campaign methods and lessons need to be learnt. Maybe our exposure of candidates wasn’t high enough to retain the seats.”
He added: “I am pleased the residents of St Thomas have put their confidence in me again, it has been a difficult time.” The party only narrowly held on to their seat in St James, with Councillor Kevin Mitchell winning by a tight margin of just 35 votes.
Councillor Joan Morrish is not daunted by being the only Liberal councillor.
She said: “This is how I started. When I was first elected in 1992 I was the only Liberal for two years, until Margaret Danks won her seat and David, who was a county councillor when I joined the city council, came back a few years later to the city council.
“I am not disheartened. I shall vote on the issues and not align with any of the parties.”
Labour’s share of the vote was up 13.4 per cent and the Conservative’s up 4.5 per cent while the Liberal Democrats’ share was down nine per cent.