LIBERAL Democrats in the Vale of White Horse say they are ready to seize back the district council after winning two Tory seats in a by-election.

Party leader Richard Webber spoke after the Lib Dems won both seats in a poll for the Sunningwell and Wootton ward.

The party last year lost control of the council to the Conservatives after 16 years. All seats are up for grabs in 2014.

Elizabeth Miles and Valerie Shaw took the seats with 549 and 577 votes to 346 and 333 for Tories Adam Hardiman and Richard Trefflor.

The poll was called after sitting members Jane Crossley moved away and Timothy Foggin stepped down for health reasons.

The move leaves 29 Conservatives, 20 Lib Dems, one independent and one Labour councillor.

Conservative leader Matthew Barber said the Lib Dems’ success was down to “local personalities” and said the Tories remained strong.

But asked if he felt the Lib Dems were on course to win back the council, Mr Webber said: “Absolutely. That is the target.

“We have leant it back to them for four years and we are going to get it back again.

“It is down to hard work. I don’t think we have done anything particularly clever. There is a bit of disillusionment with the current regime.”

A contentious issue is house building plans in rural areas, he said.

The council has yet to agree where it will support new housing estates in the next 20 years, leading developers to apply for other sites.

Mr Webber said: “Local politics does depend to a certain extent on local personalities and we had two extremely good candidates.

“It means more Tories will have to turn up to big meetings. It is getting a little bit close now.”

Wootton Parish Council member Mrs Shaw lost the district council seat when the Tories took control last year.

The former Vale vice-chairman said: “I am absolutely elated. I was very upset about being beaten last time and it is wonderful to be back on the council.”

Mr Barber said: “It is disappointing. We hadn’t had the presence in the area we would have liked.

“It was very much a campaign of local personalities rather than any great issues or gauge for the rest of the political scene.

“If it had been reflected in the national picture we would have expected a Lib Dem collapse.

“I don’t think we are hugely surprised given the local circumstances.”

Speaking about her win, Mrs Miles said: “I’m delighted – not least because I was quite late going into it – but also staggered by the amount of work that people have done to support me. I’m grateful to everyone who voted for me.”