Labour has won an historic victory in taking Cheshire West and Chester Council from the Tories based on a minuscule 34-vote majority in the final seat.
This is the first Tory local authority in the whole country so far where Labour has gained overall control making it a deeply embarrassing result for the local Conservative Party.
Today’s result comes after the count was suspended late last night when Labour and Conservatives were on 36 seats each with one independent.
The Newton question
Everything rested on the final two-seat Newton ward held by the Conservatives.
The initial count showed a clear Labour win in one of the seats and a Labour majority in the final seat, but by a handful of votes, prompting Tory calls for a recount.
Due to the lateness of the hour, returning officer Steve Robinson insisted the recount must be postponed until today as staff were exhausted.
The double Labour win at Newton has now been confirmed giving them overall control of Cheshire West and Chester Council in a victory that will leave the local Tory Party shaken.
Labour candidates Richard Beacham and Gill Watson took the seat of Tory Adrian Walmsley and the vacancy left by the resignation of fellow Conservative Tom Parry.
After the result was declared, Labour Leader Samantha Dixon said: “We fought this campaign on an ambitious manifesto which will build a fair and transparent authority that puts residents at the heart of what we do.
“We will care, and prioritise your views, and be honest about the decisions we take.”
Councillor Dixon used her speech to pay tribute to former Labour Leader Justin Madders - now the newly elected MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston - and late party stalwarts Derek Bateman and David Robinson, who she described as “giants”.
Council leader Mike Jones said: “We in the Conservative Party are incredibly proud of what we have created over the last six years. Over £600m into roads, infrastructure and schools, with another £134m going forwards.
“We are proud of reducing the budget and creating one of the best councils in the country. I’m sure there are some challenging times ahead but I look forward to this with interest.”
Another tight contest
The tightness of the contest was an almost carbon copy of the Chester parliamentary battle which saw Labour’s Chris Matheson take the seat from the Conservatives’ Stephen Mosley with a 93-vote majority, again following a recount.
Community fears around the potential for fracking in Upton may have helped Labour on the road to victory.
There, Labour’s high profile anti-fracking campaigner Cllr Matt Bryan took one of the two Tory seats leaving Conservative Cllr Hilarie McNae out in the cold.
In Hoole, the retirement of popular sitting Lib Dem councillor Bob Thompson and the national collapse of the Lib Dem vote led to another Labour gain. Cllr Thompson had been the solitary Lib Dem CWaC member but the party has now been completely wiped out.
The only non-partisan member to secure election is independent councillor Martin Barker who took the Parkgate seat vacated by former Conservative executive member Brenda Dowding.
At one stage, when both parties were level pegging with the prospect of a hung council, it looked as though Cllr Barker, a sales manager and town councillor, may hold the balance of power.
In total there will be 22 new faces - 12 Labour, nine Conservative and one Independent - among the 75 Members at the council’s annual meeting on May 21.
The previous composition of Cheshire West and Chester Council was 42 Conservative, 32 Labour, 1 Lib Dem. The composition of the new council is 38 Labour, 36 Conservatives and one Independent.