LEADER of the Liberal Democrats Sir Vince Cable said he was confident the party would take over Winchester City Council at the next available chance.

Last week, the party closed the gap on the ruling Conservatives to just one seat.

Speaking at a rally after another victory in Eastleigh, Sir Vince said they would target Winchester and be confident of a future overall majority.

He said: “Winchester wasn’t a shock to us, we came very close and we are confident that we can overturn it at the next election. It is of course a city where we have done well and had a strong presence historically, I remember the by-election there in 1997.

“It shows this area of the country, together with our flagship council of Eastleigh, could be a very strong one for us.”

The leader also said he thought Eastleigh Borough Council had been brave but sensitive with their housing policy, after the party lost seats in Bishopstoke, where a controversial housing plan is in place.

Councillors are targeting land near Bishopstoke and Fair Oak to build more than 5,000 homes with shops, schools and open spaces but next to ancient woodland.

Despite those targets, there is still no final Local Plan in the borough. Now Home Secretary, Sajid Javid had asked the council to respond with why they didn’t have one in place. The previous plan was thrown out by a government inspector in 2014, but had planned to deliver more than 16,000 homes by 2036.

He said: “They have been brave in their decision making, but also sensitive in protecting the green belt. What we have seen is that people round here are desperate for affordable homes. I really think their rent-to-buy scheme could be rolled out across the entire country.”

Borough council leader Keith House said Winchester, along with Test Valley, were top targets for the party.

He said: “It isn’t a coincidence about Winchester, it was a good result and if circumstances were different, we may even have taken it this time around.”

Speaking about the lost Bishopstoke seats, cllr House added: “It’s very easy to seduce the electorate once, but we are the only party with housing and infrastructure plans that will work permanently.

“Over the years this party has delivered affordable homes, leisure facilities and other aspects of policy.

“During the recession we opened venues, and Places Leisure Eastleigh shows that £28 million was even available and delivered on time.

“If we can roll those sort of policies and that way of thinking out to Winchester, and across the country, we will be standing in a very good place.

“The number of people here supporting us, and Vince, on such short notice, reflects the dedication in our support.”