HYNDBURN Conservatives were the happier crowd this afternoon (May 6) as they gained ground in their quest to knock a troubled Labour Party off their council perch.

After weeks of campaigning and Thursday’s election, Accrington Town Hall was awash with anticipation as votes were verified and counted – with hopeful councillors stood behind clear screens watching on as their fate was sealed with each ballot.

Labour in Hyndburn knew – what with their recent cocktail of negative press and several high-profile resignations and defections – that this would not be plain sailing.

Prior to the first result, Noordad Aziz, previously the Labour councillor for Netherton but not standing for election, was full of energy and hope.

He said: “There is a long way to go today, but this a new Labour with new candidates and new ideas.

“Labour is changing and we have a vision. We’re hopeful of a strong result.”

Shortly after 11.30am, the first result was declared: a Labour hold in Overton, but as seems to be the case in Hyndburn it wasn’t as simple as that.

The seat had been held by Jenny Molineux, who quit Labour in November to be an independent and stood down this time round, so while it was a hold they had another councillor under their banner.

Former Labour councillor who dramatically defected to the Conservative, Gareth Molineux, ran for his new party in his wife’s old seat but lost, and has been ousted from Hyndburn Council. Scott Brerton was the people’s choice here.

Lancashire Telegraph: CONTROVERSIAL: Gareth Molineux, who defected from Labour to the Conservative, has been ousted from the councilCONTROVERSIAL: Gareth Molineux, who defected from Labour to the Conservative, has been ousted from the council

Cllr Brerton said: “I’ve worked really hard for this and I’m so proud. I’ve walked many miles, door to door and speaking to the people here.

“It’s great to be elected and I can’t wait to serve the people of Overton as best I can.”

Labour then gained Rishton with Bernard Dawson beating Conservative incumbent Michael Miller by just 38 votes.

There was a strong showing here for Andrew Harris too, an independent candidate, collecting 28 per cent of the vote.

Holding Spring Hill provided yet more good news for Labour, before the Conservative’s took both seats in St Oswald’s.

Tory leader Marlene Howarth was re-elected while Zak Khan took the spot vacated by Labour’s Chris Knight, who resigned in March for family and work reasons.

Labour then held Netherton while the Conservative’s held Immanuel before Huncoat turned blue, with Tory candidate Danny Cassidy beating Samina Mahmood in the seat previously held by Labour’s Dave Parkins.

The mood was shifting slightly after a strong start for Labour was pegged back by Conservative holds and gains.

There were then re-elections for Andy Clegg (Lab) and Joyce Plummer (Lab) in Milnshaw and Peel respectively – before another red seat turned blue in Clayton-le-Moors.

Peter Edwards was elected to rapturous applause in the Tory camp, veteran Tim O’Kane beaten after winning in the previous six local elections.

Last up was St. Andrew’s, with Labour needing a gain here from Stuart Eaves to stand any chance of holding a majority council. The tension was palpable until it was announced that Steve Smithson had been narrowly re-elected for the Conservatives.

At the previous election, Labour won control of the council, which is now lost, with no overall control after both parties failed to reach the magic number of 18 seats.

Scenes of commiseration and despair were on display in the town hall as Labour candidates realised their recent in-fighting had come back to haunt them.

Lancashire Telegraph: BALLOTS: The vote counting getting underway in HyndburnBALLOTS: The vote counting getting underway in Hyndburn

Meanwhile, the Conservative’s rejoiced and congratulated each other on a fine campaign, despite the looming presence of the Partygate scandal in Downing Street and deepening cost of living crisis.

Conservative leader Marlene Howarth said: “It’s fabulous, I’m absolutely ecstatic.

“This was a team effort, and it’s the best team I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.

“I’m so proud of the three gains. OK, it’s unfortunate that we lost a seat but all in all, what a brilliant performance.

“We’re lucky to have a fabulous MP here in Sara Britcliffe and we will endeavour to work with her and drag Hyndburn back into the 21st century.”

Sara Britcliffe’s father, Peter Britcliffe, said: “We are absolutely delighted with the result. We’ve held three of the four seats we were defending and gained three.

“It’s been a tremendous team effort and I’d like to thank everyone who helped to distinguish our campaign.

“We’ve worked very hard for each other but hard work pays. I’m over the moon. In fact, we’re headed to Wetherspoons now for food and drinks, a bit of a celebration and now it’s time to relax before the real hard work starts up again.”

Labour leader Paul Cox, who stepped into the role following the shock resignation of Miles Parkinson from Labour in March, said: “I would say this wasn’t unexpected.

“Obviously we’ve been sent a message from residents about how they feel in Hyndburn and now it’s time to take stock.

“We’ve got big projects that we’ve worked – and are working – on. We’ve got the Levelling Up bid, improved waste collections and plenty of regeneration works in the pipeline with even more to come.

“What I can say to residents is that I appreciate what they’re saying but we’ve got to also think that we can be trusted to carry on.

“We are one of the most economically sound councils in Lancashire and we have tried to protect residents from cuts from central government.

“For example, the County Council council tax rate is 5.99 per cent. We went for the minimum at 1.99 per cent and it’s worth reminding people that 74 per cent of council tax does go to Lancashire County Council. We’re working on a band-aid budget at the moment.

“It’s not too bad, this election result. It could have been a lot worse. We’ve just got to take stock now and focus on the projects we’ve got coming through.”

He also added what appeared to be a message to certain Councillors who have quit the party in recent weeks and months, including Gareth Molineux who was resoundingly rejected by the electorate under his new Tory guise.

“We’ve had a few issues with certain individuals which hasn’t helped, but I have the upmost respect for them. If that’s [defecting] what they want to do, then fine.

“People are free to make their own choices in life, however I do firmly believe that when people vote for a Labour councillor, they expect them to remain that way. I think we’ve got that message.”