Five defections today to UKIP on West Norfolk Council - first to UKIP on Fenland Council expected in the New Year

The Estover public meeting on Wednesday had a strong UKIP presence. Front row (left) is Andrew Chara

The Estover public meeting on Wednesday had a strong UKIP presence. Front row (left) is Andrew Charalambas, the UKIP housing spokesman next to UKIP county councillor Alan Lay. Back row (left) is UKIP county councillor Peter Reeve next to local UKIP supporter John Skoulding. - Credit: Archant

Five defections to UKIP on West Norfolk Council were announced today – at the same time as UKIP hinted they would name the first member to join them on Fenland District Council in the New Year.

Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, Cllr Steve Count. Now also selected as candidate for Fenlan

Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, Cllr Steve Count. Now also selected as candidate for Fenland Council. - Credit: Archant

It was also announced today that UKIP has targeted the north ward of March for Fenland Council elections next May after county council leader Steve Count won the Tory nomination last night for the district ward.

Former Tory councillor Peter Tunley will remain as an independent to contest one of the March north seats and UKIP will announce their candidates after Christmas.

The ward- where all three seats were won the Conservatives in 2011- is vulnerable to opposition challenge following widespread anger over the ‘windfall’ policy that could allow up to 249 extra homes to be built there.

UKIP is leading the challenge to protect Estover from development and county councillor Peter Reeve has pledged to work with March Town Council to try and secure the playing field as a community asset. This would enable the town council to buy the site at agricultural values and then find external sources to fund sports development there.

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Today’s defections to UKIP at West Norfolk means the party now has six members on the council, becoming the third largest group after the Tories who still hold 39 of the 62 seats, and Labour with 12 seats.

Council leader Nick Daubney said: “I don’t know why they didn’t do it in the first place - it was clearly what they were going to do.

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“I’ve got no time for politicians who follow the popular line at the time. Every since they joined the Conservative group, all they ever did was tried to promote these UKIP ideas. Then they said they were independent when it was obvious they were UKIP.

“They’ve just waited to see which way the wind’s blowing.”

In a statement UKIP said: “This is a huge boost to our presence in the Eastern Region.”

“North West Norfolk is already a target seat for UKIP in next year’s general election and this development adds to the aim of UKIP to make them the largest party on the borough council after next May’s elections.”

The five councillors include two former mayors and a former chairman and treasurer of the local Conservative Association.

UKIP party leader Nigel Farage said: “To have so many councillors coming over to us in one go is very exciting for UKIP and for North West Norfolk.

“These individuals have realised that the old parties have forsaken the interests of the British people.

“I commend them for having the courage to stand up for their beliefs. UKIP now has all to play for in the May elections at both borough and parliamentary level.”

Independent West Winch ward councillor Paul Foster was today named as leader of the new UKIP group, which also includes former mayors Michael Pitcher (Ind, Grimston) and Michael Langwade (Ind, Gaywood North Bank).

They are being joined by June Leamon (Ind, West Winch) and Stephanie Smeaton (Ind, Heacham). Before today’s announcement, UKIP had just one member on the council - Ashley Collins, who represents the Watlington ward.

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