Labour holds onto Fairstead council seat, as almost nine in 10 voters stay at home

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Labour were celebrating victory in a West Norfolk Council by-election today, though barely one in 10 eligible voters actually took part.

The party held onto the Fairstead ward seat, with Gary Howman being re-elected to the authority after a two-year absence.

But fears of a low turnout were realised as just 12.8 per cent of voters cast a ballot, little more half of the 22 per cent that participated in the previous week’s county council poll in the area.

Borough council officials maintain the schedule was arranged to avoid confusing voters by holding it and the county poll on the same day.

But, out of more than 4,500 voters, just 579 votes were cast in the election, of which 341 were cast at the polling station in the Fairstead Community Centre.

That means it catered for just 23 voters per hour during the 15 hours it was open.

Mr Howman said the timing of the by-election had made the result impossible to predict.

He said: “Between the county election and the general election, I can understand why the turnout was low.

“We were having to explain on the doorstep and remind them this election was happening.”

Mr Howman, who previously represented the Old Gaywood ward between 2011 and 2015, succeeds Ian Gourlay, who died in February.

He said: “I’m very grateful to the people who went out and voted for me. I’m hoping to carry on the good work of Ian Gourlay, who was a good friend of mine. Together with (fellow ward councillor) Margaret Wilkinson, we will do the best we can for the area.”

The full result is as follows:

Gary Howman (Labour) 254 votes, Ronald Mortimer (Conservative) 189, Michael Stone (UK Independence Party) 68, Rob Colwell (Liberal Democrat) 66.