THE UK Independence Party has won its first five seats on Wyre Forest District Council, shifting the area’s political spectrum.
Amidst a tense atmosphere inside the Wyre Forest Glades Leisure Centre, councillors and candidates listened as ward-by-ward UKIP took votes and seats from the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberals and ICHC and the authority remained in no overall control.
It means the make-up of the council is now Conservatives: 15 seats (-3 seats), Labour: 9 (+2), Independent Community and Health Concern: 7 (-2), UKIP: 5 (+5), Liberal and Independent: Independent: 3 (-), Liberal and Independent: Liberal: 2 (-1), Independent: 1.
The Tories are still the biggest party in Wyre Forest but are now well short of the 22 seats needed for the overall majority they enjoyed going into the 2011 district elections.
The party is still likely to form the administration as it seems unlikely enough of the opposition parties would be willing to work together to overthrow the ruling group – although all leaders remained tight lipped on which other groups they would or would not sit with.
High profile casualties included cabinet member Conservative Ian Hardiman, who was unseated in Habberley and Blakebrook by Labour’s Lynne Hyde. Council vice chairman, Tory Daniel McCann, lost his Franche seat to UKIP’s Anthony Clent.
Labour councillor Howard Martin lost his Broadwaters seat to UKIP's Paul Wooldridge and the Liberal's Tim Ingham was unsuccessful as he was moved from his Greenhill seat to fight the Offmore and Comberton seat won by Conservative Rose Bishop.
Labour’s other gain saw Rob Lloyd unseat ICHC’s Nigel Thomas in Areley Kings. Independent John Aston held on to his Aggborough and Spennells seat, fighting for the first time without Tory backing.
Conservative group leader Marcus Hart said: “I am delighted we are still the largest party. Obviously it is a very mixed picture which does not surprise me.”
Fellow Tory John Campion, who held on to his Sutton Park seat, said: “The electorate has spoken, they have clearly been caught up in the national push towards the European issue.
“UKIP come to this with no local manifesto, no ideas or experience as to how to run a district council, they have now got to prove they have got the ideas to take things forward.”
UKIP parliamentary spokesman Michael Wrench, who was elected in Oldington and Foley Park at the expense of Tory Nicky Gale, said it was an historic day for his party and he would be “willing to work with anyone that has the best interests of the people of Wyre Forest at heart”.
He said: “It is a brilliant result and has been a long time coming. I hope we can change the status quo in the council and come in with a common sense attitude.
“We are the party that is listening, something the others have failed time and time again to do.”
ICHC leader Graham Ballinger described the results as “disappointing” for his group, adding Areley Kings, in Mr Thomas and Mitton, in Mike Salter, had “lost two hard working, experienced councillors”. Labour’s Mr Lloyd and UKIP’s John Holden won those two seats respectively.
Mr Ballinger admitted his party had lost some of Wyre Forest’s “traditional anti-main party votes” but added: “We will be back. We as a party are strong and we are excited about next year’s election with Richard Taylor leading the fight.”
Despite gaining two seats, Labour’s share of the vote dropped to fourth overall, with just 18 per cent. Councillor Nigel Knowles, however, said his party was in a good position going into next year’s general election.
New Areley Kings Labour councillor, Mr Lloyd, said: “It has been a lot of hard work. I will continue to work for my own community which I believe in and do my best for them over the next 12 months.”
Mr Aston looked apprehensive during the counting process but ended up holding on to his Aggborough and Spennells seat by a majority of 506 votes.
He said: “It feels great. It shows that I can win without the Conservative’s support, we have done it on our own.”
The overall turnout across Wyre Forest was a three-year high at 36 per cent.
FULL RESULTS - CLICK HERE.
ELECTION RESULTS - AS IT HAPPENED.