DROITWICH’S Mayor has blamed the closure of the town’s brine baths after losing yesterday’s by-election.

Liberal Democrat candidate Stephanie Vale beat Conservative town councillor Maureen Lawley to the Droitwich South West ward seat on Wychavon District Council by 521 votes to 416.

Labour’s 21-year-old candidate Paul Richards got 163 votes at the polls, which saw a 27.55 per cent turnout.

The contest followed Conservative Yuleen Jewell’s decision to stand down for personal reasons.

The result means Liberal Democrats have taken a second seat off the Conservatives in less than a month, following an upset in Malvern Hills District Council’s Hallow ward in September.

However, candidates believe this by-election was won and lost on the closure of Droitwich’s brine baths, even though that was not a decision taken by Wychavon District Council.

As your Worcester News reported on Thursday, BMI Healthcare, which leases the land off the council, shut the baths because it was losing members and money. It said the building had fallen into disrepair.

On losing out Coun Lawley said: “You have only got to look at the closure of the brine baths and I don’t want to comment further at all.”

Coun Vale said there had been much anger in the town about the way Conservative-run Wychavon had kept so quiet on the brine bath issue while negotiations took place to get £200,000 compensation from BMI. That money has now been ring-fenced to provide another “brine experience” in the town.

Coun Vale said she will fight for another brine bath complex to open.

“This issue will not go away and I will make sure it doesn’t,” she said.

Wychavon council leader Paul Middlebrough said: “We always knew it was going to be a close-run fight but the issue of the brine baths and the interpretation of this didn’t help the Conservative candidate.

“It’s disappointing to see that Maureen Lawley failed to get elected but I look forward to working with Stephanie Vale.

“I know she has taken an interest in the brine baths and hope she will come and help the council in its policy to retain the spa in Droitwich Spa.”

Coun Middlebrough said he was also pleased to see a young candidate take part in the by-election and added he hoped more would follow in Mr Richards’ footsteps across all parties when the next district-wide elections take place in Wychavon in 2011.