The Conservatives have retained the control of Devon County Council for another four years – but with a reduced majority.
Under John Hart’s leadership, they have been in charge of the council since 2009, and this month’s local elections saw them stretch that reign until 2025.
Coming into the vote, the Conservatives held 41 of the 60 seats, but they only held on to 39 following the conclusion of the counting.
The Liberal Democrats gained three seats to become the official opposition on nine, while Labour gained one seat in Exeter to end on seven.
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 compared to what they went into the elections with.
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-19 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 programme is underway 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.”
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, said: “I am delighted that we have 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 Hall 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-19. 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 on to 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 who 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.”
Axminster – Ian L Hall – Conservative Party
Broadclyst – Henry Gent – Green Party
– Sara M Randall Johnson – Conservative Party
Exmouth – Jeff Trail – Conservative Party
– Richard Scott – Conservative Party
Exmouth and Budleigh salterton – Christine Channon – Conservative Party
Feniton and Honiton – Phil Twiss – Conservative Party
Otter valley – Jess Bailey – Conservative Party
Seaton and Colyton – Marcus Hartnell – Conservative Party
Sidmouth – Stuart Hughes – Conservative Party
Whimple and Blackdown – Iain Chubb – Conservative Party
Alphington and Cowick – Yvonne Atkinson – Labour Party
Duryard and Pennsylvania – Percy Prowse – Conservative Party
Exwick and St. Thomas – Rob Hannaford – Labour Party
Heavitree and Whipton Barton – Danny Barnes – Labour Party
Pinhoe and Mincinglake – Tracy Adams – Labour Party
St David’s and Haven Banks – Carol Whitton – Labour party
St Sidwell’s and St James – Su Aves- labour party
Wearside and Topsham – Andrew Leadbetter – conservative party
Wonford and St Loye’s – Andrew Leadbetter – conservative party
Crediton – Frank Letch – Liberal Democrats party
Creedy Taw and Mid Exe – Margaret Squires – conservative party
Cullompton and Bradninch – John Berry – conservative party
Tiverton East – Colin Slade – conservative party
Tiverton West – Richard Chesterton – conservative party
Willand and Uffculme – Ray Radford – conservative party
Barnstaple North – ian roome – Liberal Democrats
Barnstaple South – Caroline Frances LEAVER – Liberal Democrats
Braunton Rural – Pru MASKELL – The Conservative Party
Chulmleigh & Landkey – Paul John HENDERSON – The Conservative Party
Combe Martin Rural – Andrea Vivienne DAVIS – The Conservative Party
Fremington Rural – Frank Lindsay BIEDERMAN – Independent
Ilfracombe – Paul Edward CRABB – The Conservative Party
South Molton – Jeremy Owen YABSLEY – The Conservative Party
Bickleigh & Wembury – HART John – The Conservative Party
Dartmouth & Marldon – Jonathan Dennis HAWKINS – The Conservative Party
Ivybridge – Roger Frederick CROAD – The Conservative Party
Kingsbridge – Julian BRAZIL – Liberal Democrat
Salcombe – Rufus Danvers John GILBERT – The Conservative Party
South Brent & Yealmpton – Daniel James THOMAS – Liberal Democrat
Totnes & Dartington – Jacqi HODGSON – Green Party
Ashburton & Buckfastleigh – Sarah PARKER-KHAN – The Conservative Party
Bovey Rural – George John GRIBBLE – The Conservative Party
Chudleigh & Teign Valley – Jerry BROOK – The Conservative Party
Dawlish – Martin WRIGLEY – Liberal Democrats
Exminster & Haldon – Alan Michael CONNETT – Liberal Democrats
Ipplepen & The Kerswells – Alistair DEWHIRST – Liberal Democrats
Kingsteignton & Teign Estuary – Ron PEART – Conservative Party
Newton Abbot North – Phil BULLIVANT – Conservative Party
Newton Abbot South – Janet BRADFORD – Independent
Teignmouth – David Nicholas COX – Liberal Democrats
Bideford East – Linda Joan HELLYER – The Conservative Party
Bideford West & Hartland – Jeffrey WILTON-LOVE – The Conservative Party
Holsworthy Rural – James MORRISH – The Conservative Party
Northam – Dermot Aaron Dennis MCGEOUGH – The Conservative Party
Torrington Rural – Andrew SAYWELL – The Conservative Party
Hatherleigh & Chagford – James Raymond MCINNES – The Conservative Party
Okehampton Rural – Lois Esther SAMUEL – The Conservative Party
Tavistock – Debo SELLIS – The Conservative Party
Yelverton Rural – Philip Richard SANDERS – The Conservative Party