THE new leader of Mid Devon District Council admits he “never imagined” the scale of the Liberal Democrats’ local elections victory.

Luke Taylor’s party now has a commanding majority at Phoenix House, the council’s headquarters, after romping to victory last week, gaining 22 new seats to replace the Conservatives as the largest party.

“It was a fantastic result. It was our best expectations,” Cllr Taylor told the Local Democracy Reporting Service. “Where we thought we had a chance of winning, every one of those was returned, which is always a great outcome.

“People worked hard, they campaigned hard, and we got the reaction and the results that we wanted.”

The Lib Dems now occupy 33 of Mid Devon’s 42 seats, while the Tories have just five councillors – a reduction of 12 compared to before the election.

“I never imagined that we would get that high,” Cllr Taylor said. “I had figures in my head. I thought we had an opportunity to perhaps take control of the council, following on from the Tiverton and Honiton by-election last year, but 33 (seats) was almost a pipe dream away but it’s come to reality.”

Former Conservative group leader Clive Eginton was among those ousted as a councillor. Speaking to “DevonLive”, he said prime minister Rishi Sunak is “trying to stabilise the ship”, but added: “Without any doubt, it has been national politics that have played a major part in this election.

“Once again, regrettably, people have decided to vote or not vote as the case may be based on national issues. Now that is their prerogative, but what people have to realise is those actions have consequences and it now means a complete and utter change at Mid Devon District Council.

“What the next four years will bring, I do not know, but I think we are in for very choppy waters,” Mr Eginton said.

Cllr Taylor becomes the council’s third leader in three months following the resignation of Independent Bob Deed and the subsequent “caretaker” administration of fellow Independent Barry Warren. Both lost their seats in the elections.

He accepted his party was “fortunate with what’s happening on the national front” as the Conservatives continue to struggle in the opinion polls, but added: “We had excellent candidates who fought hard.”

Cllr Taylor said most residents’ concerns during the campaign were on local issues, with frustration at council tax increases, the state of local roads and the lack of council housing being built.

“But people were also frustrated nationally with the Conservatives,” he added. “The amount of people I spoke to – lifelong Conservative voters – who weren’t going to vote Conservative again. They are that upset with how the country’s gone.”

On his priorities as leader, the member for Bradninch said: “We’ve got to build more social housing. Council housing has been in decline and that really needs to be a push. The projects that are already ongoing, they need to be completed and we need to be starting more projects.”

He also said the council needs to review the future of its controversial property development company 3Rivers, set up to help subsidise the council by making a profit from building market-rate housing.

However, it suffered from the impacts of covid and is expected to make a heavy loss from one of its developments in Tiverton. Councillors also recently rejected a new business plan for the company.

“Our view would be that it could be turned into a company to produce social housing,” Cllr Taylor said, adding that his administration will also focus on protecting leisure services, increasing recycling and meeting the council’s 2030 net zero target.

The first council meeting since the election will be held on Wednesday, May 24.