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Tories retain control of West Suffolk Council as Independents make gains

Cllr Andy Drummond and Cllr Colin Noble
Cllr Andy Drummond and Cllr Colin Noble

West Suffolk's Tories have fended off an influx of independent candidates, retaining control of the council by just four seats.

Some 22 independents have won seats in West Suffolk House, with the Conservatives remaining in control with 36 members. There are also five Labour councillors and one Green on the new authority.

Seven of the independent councillors will represent the West Suffolk Independents.

The Tories have a majority of eight.

In a devastating day for the Tories, members who dominated Forest Heath - which has been amalgamated into the new West Suffolk Council - will no longer sit on the authority.

James Waters, the leader of West Suffolk Council and Forest Heath, was kicked out and West Suffolk’s Conservative Party Association chairman Lance Stanbury will not return to council headquarters after independents John Smith and Don Waldron beat them to seats in The Rows.

Cllr Andy Drummond and Cllr James Lay
Cllr Andy Drummond and Cllr James Lay

Mr Stanbury said he was ‘very disappointed’. “The Conservatives have run a very successful two councils and we had very strong policies for the future," he said.

“The good thing is we are still in control but it means unfortunately we have lost a lot of very good Conservative councillors who have been working on a lot of projects and we have lost them mainly to independents because of the general national concern of voters about Brexit not being delivered.”

Ruth Allen and Cllr Michael Anderson
Ruth Allen and Cllr Michael Anderson

Voters across England punished established parties, allowing independents to break through.

Former leader of Suffolk County Council, Conservative Colin Noble, lost his Lakenheath district seat, coming last.

He said 'on the doorstep all people wanted to talk about was Brexit - not our record'.

Colin Noble, who remains a county councillor, said votes for independent candidates were a protest about having not yet left the European Union.

Ruth Bowman, who spearheaded the Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury merger, lost her Mildenhall Queensway seat to independent Andrew Neal.

Matt Hancock visited the count at Abbeycroft Leisure in Bury St Edmunds
Matt Hancock visited the count at Abbeycroft Leisure in Bury St Edmunds

And former cabinet member David Bowman, who represented Mildenhall Kingsway and Market, will not return to the council after losing out to independent Ian Shipp.

But in positive news for the Tories, they were able to defend Newmarket from the independent onslaught.

Robert Nobbs and Rachel Hood won Newmarket East. Andy Drummond and James Lay won in Newmarket West and Robin Millar will continue to represent the town in Newmarket North.

Cllr Millar said the results show ‘democracy in action’. "It's all about Brexit," he said: "Look at the number spoiled ballots and written on them were messages about Brexit."

West Suffolk Independent and ex-Tory Michael Anderson will also sit on the council for Newmarket North.

Outside of the town husband and wife duo Roger and Dawn Dicker, both West Suffolk Independents, will serve on the council for Kentford and Moulton, and Iceni.

Turnout across West Suffolk was 31.8 per cent.

MORE: Here's who was elected to Newmarket Town Council and West Suffolk Council