3:19am Friday 4th May 2007
By Barry Goodson and Alison White
THE Conservatives have taken control of Gravesham Council after 12 years of Labour rule.
The local elections in Gravesham saw the Tories win seven seats from Labour and claim 54 per cent of the vote.
They won 26 seats, compared with the 16 now held by Labour, which had 40 per cent of the vote. No other parties claimed a seat.
Gravesham was viewed as a key battleground in this year's local elections.
Prior to polling, Labour held 23 of the borough's 44 seats, and the Tories 16.
Tory leader Councillor Michael Snelling said: "I am over the moon. I think we have exceeded our expectations."
However, Cllr Snelling will not become leader of the council unless he is re-elected in the Meopham North ward.
Polling in the ward was cancelled following the death of Tory councillor Malcolm Burgoyne last month.
A by-election will now be held on June 21.
If, as expected, the Conservatives hold the ward's two seats, they will see their majority increase to 12 seats and Cllr Snelling will take his place as council leader.
In the meantime, the Conservatives will announce a senior Tory as interim leader.
Cllr Snelling expects to become council leader during a council meeting on June 26.
The Tories held all the seats in Central, Chalk, Higham, Istead Rise, Riverview, Woodlands and the Shorne, Cobham and Luddesdown wards.
Two former Tory councillors - George Lambton and Derek Robinson - who had been deselected by their party stood as independent candidates in the Whitehill ward but were not re-elected.
Voters instead chose their Conservative replacements - William Dyke and Anthony Pritchard.
Meanwhile, Riverside, Northfleet North, Northfleet South, Coldharbour and Pelham remained in Labour's hands.
The major damage to Labour saw two three-seat wards, Singlewell and Painters Ash, turn Conservative.
Outgoing council leader Councillor John Burden, who was re-elected, put on a brave face after the results.
He said: "We will make sure our hard work is not lost in the next four years. I plan to come back in four years' time."
Harry Smith will remain Mayor of Gravesham despite losing his Labour seat in Painters Ash.
Mr Smith will continue in his post until the annual council meeting on May 15.
The Conservatives say they will nominate Higham ward councillor Patricia Oakeshott as mayor.
Turnout at the borough's polling stations was 29.1 per cent this year, according to returning officer Jim Wintour.
Once postal votes were accounted for, this figure rose to 36.4 per cent.
This was an increase from the 31-per-cent turnout at the last local election in 2003.
The 2003 vote saw Labour win 23 seats, while the Tories won 21.
Lord Toby Jug of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party got the fewest number of votes.
He received just 83 in Meopham South and Vigo.
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