May 4 2012 By Kate Forrester
CRUNCH talks are expected to get underway in the coming hours after Labour made significant gains in Flintshire Council.
The party took an extra nine seats, bringing its total to 31, but missed out on regaining overall control of the authority, which it lost its grip on in 2008.
When the vote counting ended at Deeside College at about 3.30am, Labour were the biggest party, followed by the Independents, with 23 - but four of those are members of a newly-created faction, the New Independents.
The Liberal Democrats took seven seats, losing just two - suggesting the party escaped the hammering suffered in other areas of the UK - while the Conservatives took eight seats, losing one.
The county's only Plaid Cymru councillor, Gareth Roberts, retained his Holywell West seat. Among the key gains for Labour were the Gronant ward, where Independent group leader Fred Gillmore lost his seat to new councillor Sharon Williams and two seats in Broughton South, where Derek Butler and Mike Lowe ousted New Independents David McFarlane and Peter Pemberton.
Former executive member Kevin Jones also saw a return to power in Bagillt East, where Tory Norma Jones was beaten.
Labour group leader Aaron Shotton, who enjoyed a double celebration after regaining his seat in Connah's Quay Central and seeing his father, Paul Shotton, win in Connah's Quay Golftyn, said: "It was always a significant challenge to take back full control of Flintshire given the result in 2008, however, we are pleased we the result and our candidates will serve their electorates well."
Crucial talks are expected to take place in the coming days, when it will be decided who will take over the running of the council.
To gain an overall majority, Labour would have to form an alliance with at least five councillors from other groups.
Alyn and Deeside AM Carl Sargeant said the result showed that voters had sent a message to the national government.
He said: "We have seen Labour gains right across Wales and people have sent a very clear message to David Cameron and Nick Clegg.
"We have had some great local candidates for Labour, who I am sure will do their constituents proud.
"The leader of the majority group at Flintshire Council now has a lot of thinking to do."