Vote in Watton today could lead to shift balance of power at Norfolk County Council


- Credit: PA

The future of Norfolk County Council could be in the hands of Watton voters when they go to the polls today.

The candidates for the Watton ward include two current Breckland councillors, Claire Bowes, Conservative, and Keith Gilbert, Independent, and they are joined Tim Birt, Green party, and Joe Sisto, Labour.

The poll will be taken between 7am and 10pm.

The result could be known by 11.30pm.

The by-election came about after the resignation of Stan Hebborn, who had run under the UK Independence Party banner.

However UKIP has chosen not to field a candidate to go before the ballot box in November, as have the Lib Dems.

Both have decided to back independent Mr Gilbert in the by-election.

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Mr Hebborn's decision to quit county hall, as well as UKIP, has left the current coalition on a knife edge with 40 Conservative members to 14 Labour, 13 UKIP and Independent, nine Liberal Democrats, four Greens and two non-aligned.

There are currently two vacancies after Liberal Democrat Dave Thomas also announced his resignation from his South Smallburgh ward.

If the Conservatives win in Watton and also in South Smallburgh, where a by-election also takes place today, the Conservatives may regain control of the 84-seat county council.

The leader of the council can be replaced, if a motion is put and agreed by the full council.

After 12 years in power, the Conservatives lost control of the county council in 2013 to an alliance of Labour, UKIP and the Liberal Democrats, with support from the Green Party.

Outgoing councillor Mr Hebborn said he wished his successor well in the role.

He said: 'I tried to make a difference, I couldn't and I don't think I would be influential as an independent.

'I wish whoever replaces me luck whichever party they are from, I hope they are able to do the best for the people of Watton.'

UKIP leader at county hall Toby Coke said the party had a candidate who had decided to pull out.

He said: 'We had a candidate, a good local person, but they decided not to stand so rather than having some other paper candidate we are backing Keith Gilbert as an independent.'

Lib Dem Dan Roper, deputy leader of NCC, said: 'We made a conscious decision not to contest this by-election as we were aware that Keith Gilbert was going to stand. Many of us have known and worked with Keith Gilbert for a number of years and we think he is a very effective local and district councillor.'

There are five polling stations in the town and surrounding villages, four of which have been used as polling stations in previous elections and one venue that has changed.

People should check their polling cards for details of which polling station they should use.

Voters who may have gone to Queens Hall, on Norwich Road, to vote in previous elections are being advised that this polling station has been relocated to Watton Sports and Social Club, on Dereham Road.

The polling stations which have been used in previous elections and are again being used for the Watton by-election are at: Carbrooke Coronation Hall, Church Street, Ovington Village Hall, Church Road, Caston Village Hall, The Street, and Watton Christian Community Centre, 57 High Street.

Maxine O'Mahony, Breckland's returning officer, said: 'Most voters won't see a change of polling station since the last election, but it is important that everybody double-checks their polling card to ensure they are clear on where they need to go on November 19.'

Anyone who has lost their polling card can check their polling station by calling Breckland's elections team on 01362 656875.