Voters in Exeter yesterday elected three new councillors to represent them in the key wards that cover the city centre, with all the city’s ruling Exeter Labour group candidates missing out despite the party’s confident campaign.
There are ongoing controversies around development decisions taken by Exeter’s Labour-run council in these wards that have angered residents.
These include the closure of Clifton Hill sports centre and the planned sale of the green space in which it sits to private developers, the impact of large purpose-built student accommodation blocks on several prominent sites, and the decision to build a new leisure centre and bus station at a cost of £51.8m, more than double the £20m budget originally envisaged for the project.
Diana Moore won by a country mile in St David’s for the Green Party, with the largest number of votes of any candidate standing in any ward (1455), the largest margin of victory across the city (659 votes) and the city’s largest vote share (55%).
She said: “People are concerned about the fact Exeter is changing a lot and they don’t feel part of that change, and they are very concerned about how well their money is being spent.
“If you look at how Labour are taking on huge debts, and how much future income will be tied up in servicing those debts, and then focussing on delivering their big projects at the expense of neighbourhood facilities, shutting public toilets and closing play parks, that’s really worrying.
“We need to have facilities in neighbourhoods, particularly as the city grows, particularly in St David’s where the population is getting denser”.
She added: “People are also very concerned about environmental issues, about their health because of poor quality air across the city.
“Labour said they would introduce a weekly food waste recycling service but they didn’t follow through with action. Exeter is the only district in Devon that sends its food waste for incineration. People still want this service”.
Thanking the residents of St David’s for their support, she added: “What people have told me in the ward is that they want me to turn up, they want me to ask difficult questions, and I very much intend to do that. People want to be listened to and included.”
Jemima Moore, a local resident with no prior political experience, stood as an independent candidate in Newtown & St Leonard’s and won handsomely with the second highest number of votes cast for any candidate (1359).
This was the first time her team, who recently formed around their campaign to save the Clifton Hill sports centre site, have fought an election.
Jemima said she was “absolutely delighted, a little shocked and most of all immensely grateful for the people who supported and voted for me, my amazingly hard-working campaign team and my wonderful husband”.
She added: “I hope this indicated the strength of people’s feelings over the sell-off of Clifton Hill and the threats to our green spaces. I hope that the complacency that we have seen from the council will be lessened and we will see them genuinely listening and responding to the people that they represent”.
Exeter Labour headquarters is located in the Newtown & St Leonard’s ward, as are the controversial Clifton Hill sports centre site, St Sidwell’s Point development site, and both Bull Meadow Park and Mount Radford Lawn, where green space is also lined up for redevelopment.
Michael Mitchell, a Liberal Democrat standing in Duryard & St James, won by a margin of just under 200 votes, beating Conservative veteran Percy Prowse. The Labour candidate finished in third place.
Mr Mitchell, who was a councillor in Exmouth for many years, said: “This new experience feels a little like ground hog day. I am looking forward to the challenges ahead. During this campaign I felt real anger on the doorstep about the way the Labour Party in Exeter are running basic services and major projects.”
He added: “I look forward to working with others on the council to ensure that there is full and open debate about the key issues impacting upon the lives of the citizens of Exeter.”
Despite losing in these three city centre wards, Labour stayed in control of the council, winning in Exwick, Heavitree, Mincinglake & Whipton, Pennsylvania, Priory and St Thomas, as well as Alphington, where Green Party councillor Chris Musgrave stood down, and Pinhoe, where Trish Oliver beat Conservative Cynthia Thompson by just 15 votes.
The Conservative Party is now represented in only two of the city’s wards. Yolonda Henson won in St Loye’s to continue alongside David Henson and Peter Holland, and Rob Newby won in Topsham to continue alongside Andrew Leadbetter and Catherine Pierce.
Yesterday’s elections took place in one third of Exeter’s wards, following a cycle which sees 13 of 39 councillors elected in each of three subsequent years, with a pause in the fourth year.
An additional vacancy in Priory ward, due to the resignation of Kate Hannan, meant that 14 councillors were elected yesterday, 13 for a three year term and one for a single year in a by-election for the remainder of former Councillor Hannan’s term.
Full results are available on the Exeter City Council website. The average turnout across the city was 36%, a repeat of the turnout in 2018.
All 39 councillors were exceptionally elected in 2016 following ward boundary changes.