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New Forest Tories stay in charge but Liberal Democrats promise fresh scrutiny

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Victorious New Forest Liberal Democrats at the election count at Applemore leisure centre
Victorious New Forest Liberal Democrats at the election count at Applemore leisure centre

THE leader of the Liberal Democrat group has hailed the party’s performance at the New Forest District Council elections in which it increased its seats from two to 13.

Overall the Tories retained control of NFDC, winning 46 of the 60 seats up for grabs and retaining a commanding majority. However, there was despondency at the loss of 10 councillors.

A delighted Cllr David Harrison, Lib Dem leader on NFDC, told the A&T: “I think it is good for democracy that there will be a much greater level of scrutiny and challenge on the district council.

“Hythe and Dibden is now a Conservative-free zone at parish, district and county level with Liberal Democrats winning everything.

“Where we were able to stand candidates, we did extremely well – either winning or putting up a very stiff challenge to the Conservatives.”

Senior Tory Cllr Michael Thierry, vice-chair political of the party’s New Forest West group, told the A&T: “Elections are not about Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, independents or whatever, as far as the residents of the New Forest are concerned.

“What they want is a competent administration whatever the colour of that administration.

"What they want is an administration that serves them well and provides a level of services they as residents rightly demand. So it’s all about a competent administration.”

Conservatives cheer as they take one of 46 seats
Conservatives cheer as they take one of 46 seats

Privately many Tories described having a tough time on the doorsteps in the run up to the election and blamed Brexit and Prime Minister Theresa May.

“As local councillors we have no control over that – we’re effectively having to lump it for what our lot in Westminster are doing,” one said.

A measure of the anger apparently directed towards the Conservatives was summed up by one non-Tory, who relayed how while canvassing for support came across a resident who was clutching a hose.

“As I went up the driveway she said to me ‘are you Tory?’ and when I said I was an independent she said ‘Oh that’s good, no need to turn on this hose now!’”

Despite only fielding 28 candidates for the 60-seat council, the Lib Dems’ tactics paid off as they won all the seats they targeted in and around Hythe.

In the Butts Ash and Hythe Ward, Tories James Binns – a cabinet member – and Peter Armstrong were ousted by Lib Dems Stephanie Osbourne and party stalwart Malcolm Wade, who was ousted from NFDC four years ago.

“I said I’ll be back and I am,” Cllr Wade told the count, to cheers from his delighted fellow Lib Dems.

NFDC will now have to replace the former chair and vice-chairman of the influential planning committee, losing councillors Bill Andrews and Peter Armstrong.

In Lymington Town independent Cllr Jacqui England beat Tory rival Alan Penson and said she was “extremely delighted” to come out on top.

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