Lib Dems hold by-election seat in Torbay

Cat Johns and fellow Liberal Democrats at Torquay Town Hall after her by-election victory in Torbay

Cat Johns and fellow Liberal Democrats at Torquay Town Hall after her by-election victory in Torbay - Credit: Ed Oldfield

The Liberal Democrats have narrowly held a seat in a by-election for Torbay Council which they run in a partnership with Independents.

Cat Johns won Clifton with Maidenway in Paignton by a margin of 31 votes over Conservative John Fellows.

The by-election took place following the death of Liberal Democrat Ian Doggett. The former civic mayor of Torbay served from May 2003 until his death in November 2020.

Ms Johns is the daughter of the late Ruth Pentney, a Liberal Democrat who represented the ward on the council from 2003 until 2015 when she died from Motor Neurone Disease.

Ms Johns, an administrative assistant in a GP surgery, said after the result was declared just before 2am on Friday: “I knew it was close, knowing how everything is nationally in politics. I’m obviously delighted, I’m just hoping I can live up to my mum, and Ian, and do as good a job as they did.”

She said one issue that had come up during canvassing was the lack of facilities for children at Primley Park Fields in Paignton, and she was working on a plan to improve the area and install play equipment in consultation with residents.

Ms Johns said people wanted to see the regeneration of the near-empty Crossways shopping centre. The council is bringing forward a plan to replace the concrete complex with sheltered flats and progress is expected in the early summer.

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Mr Fellows, who runs a newsagent and leads the local traders’ association, said: “I’m very disappointed, I thought we ran a very strong campaign.”

Torbay’s Conservative MP Kevin Foster tweeted:  “Congratulations to Cat, but well done to John for running it so close in a ward which has been Lib Dem for a generation.”

The count took place at the Torquay Assembly Hall, next to the town hall, on Thursday night, with social distancing measures in place. A recount was held because the result was so close.

The Clifton with Maidenway ward is on the western side of Paignton, from Primley Wood in the south to Southfield Avenue in the north. 

At the local council elections in May 2019, voters returned Cllr Doggett and Liberal Democrat Margaret Douglas-Dunbar.

The Liberal Democrats and Independents formed a partnership to run the council, leaving the Conservatives in opposition.
RESULT
Clifton with Maidenway
Cat Johns, Lib Dem: 1,014
John Fellows, Con: 983
Andy Symons, Lab: 149
Sue Kenning, Green: 69
Turnout: 36.49%