It was a night the Yellows glowed, the Blues became, well, blue, and the Blacks and Greens surprised even themselves.
The LibDems unexpectedly took control from the Conservatives in Teignbridge. There was a big shift to an Independent/East Devon Alliance in East Devon, and the Conservatives lost big to the Independents in Torridge and to the LibDems in Bridgewater & North East Somerset, North Somerset and the newly combined Somerset West and Taunton Council.
Where Conservatives won most seats, they still lost overall control – such as in Mid Devon, which is now forming an Independent-led Independent/LibDem coalition – and lost their Leader’s seat in West Devon.
North Devon Conservatives will only prevent a LibDem majority if they win in the Chittlehampton vote which has been delayed until June due to the death of the Independent incumbent councillor. However, the Conservatives did take majority control of the new unitary authority of Dorset Council.
A few seats stayed the same colour: the LibDems retained South Somerset, the Conservatives held Sedgemoor, and Labour held in Plymouth and Exeter, although the latter lost city centre control.
Torbay has a hung council of Con 15 seats (lost 3), Lib Dem 13 (gained 6), Independents 8 (lost 2), (UKIP lost 1) – which won’t make its transition from a mayoral to cabinet system any easier.
So what does all this mean for the South West? After recent political shenanigans we’d be fools to put money on too much, but we do expect the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan to be seriously delayed, if not dropped altogether, and delays to other local and neighbourhood plans as the huge population of newbie councillors ride a sharp learning curve.
In the development arena, we expect emboldened rejection of Westminster housing targets, increased rejection of officer recommended applications, and a consequent increase in appeals.
On the strategic planning front, we can expect ‘green agendas’ and ‘social missions’ to come to the fore, with climate change, zero carbon and community-first commitments being made by all councils. That said, the cynics in us suspect that battle-weary officers will work hard behind the scenes to influence timescales so that such aspirations are put into the long grass, allowing them to try, at last, to get back to the business of the day to day.