Voters in Sunderland will take to the ballot box tomorrow to elect a new batch of city councillors.
A total of 105 candidates from six different parties, as well as three independents, have been campaigning for votes in twenty-five wards across the city.
We list five wards that could produce some of the most interesting talking points:
Labour currently dominate this ward, having occupied all three seats since 2012 when Cllr David Snowdon won his from the incumbent Conservatives with 56.5 per cent of the vote. But this year’s Labour candidate Neville Padgett, who was first elected to the council in 2010, has come under fire after claiming £11,110 in expenses in 2012/13 – a third of all expenses claimed by Sunderland councillors that year. Cllr Padgett claims he needed £7,084 in travel expenses after touring the ward in his car every week to look for litter. He also took £4,026 in subsistence claims, as well as the maximum allowance of £8,369 that all councillors are entitled to. Tory hopeful Hilary Johnson could be in with a chance, having come second in the same ward in 2012. But they both face competition from the Lib Dems, Ukip, and the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
Barnes is a major battleground for Labour and the Conservatives. This year’s Labour candidate, Cllr Michael Essl,took the seat from the Tory Angela Barkess with a majority of 289 in 2010. A second seat was taken from the Conservatives by Labour candidate Rebecca Atkinson in 2012, but Tory attack-dog Lee Martin held on to his seat in 2011 with a majority of just 93. This year’s Conservative challenger comes in the form of Peter O’Connor, who has previously stood for election in Pallion ward. The Conservatives will hope O’Connor can lead a Tory comeback in Barnes.
Conservative leader Robert Oliver, first elected to the council in 2004, is not standing for re-election this year. Keith O’Brien will hope to keep the seat for the Tories, but the ward is shared with Labour councillors Stuart Porthouse and Daryl Dixon, elected in 2011 and 2012 respectively. O’Brien last stood as a candidate in Millfield in the most recent local elections in 2012, but was beaten into third place by Labour and the Lib Dems. Can he win a seat on the council this year, or will the Tories lose their foothold in St Chad’s?
Labour councillor Robert Heron, currently Mayor of Sunderland, is also up for re-election this year. He shares Copt Hill with two independent councillors, and will be challenged by a third: Anthony Allen. Nevertheless, Cllr Heron has an impressive electoral record. He first became a councillor in 1991, and since then has only only taken one year out between 2003 and 2004. He was also challenged by another independent candidate, Paul Marriner, when he was last up for election in 2010, but won with a majority of 203. It seems unlikely that Cllr Heron will lose out this year, but it’s still worth keeping an eye on Copt Hill.
Castle is another Labour stronghold, returning Labour majorities of well over 1000 in 2010, 2011 and 2012 against the Conservatives and Lib Dems. This year, however, sees Ukip and the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) enter the fray. TUSC are represented in this ward by Gary Duncan, a left-wing activist who gained some recognition by organising the high-profile ‘Hands off Sunderland Libraries’ campaign last year. Duncan stood in Castle Ward for The Left Party in 2008, where he came last with 90 votes, and nationally TUSC have polled poorly, but it will be interesting to see how new contenders from both the left and right affect the distribution of votes.#####