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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

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Lack of candidates leads to empty seats

THE Government’s localism agenda appears to have fallen flat in Tynedale, where elections will only be held for 10 out of 59 town and parish councils.

In many areas, the number of nominated candidates matches exactly the number of council seats, meaning no election is necessary.

In other places, additional members will have to be co-opted, while some smaller parishes have attracted such little interest, the new councils, sitting after May, will be classed as inquorate, rendering them unable to make any official decisions.

Mick Miller, elections manager at Northumberland County Council, said: “Once the principal elections are over on May 2, we will be opening up the nomination process again for those parishes, and hopefully this time more people will come forward and stand for election.”

Some, however, are now questioning the validity of the Big Society concept here when so few residents are enthused enough to engage with the lower rungs of local government.

In Sandhoe, only Mark Baxter, a parish councillor for 14 years, has put his name forward this time.

All other current parish councillors are stepping down, meaning the council somehow has to fill four more seats.

A council meeting was due to take place on Wednesday, during which, Mr Baxter said, a way forward would be considered.

“The last time we had a by-election, it was contested,” he added. “People were standing up and wanting to be part of it then, so this is a blow.

“I think the support is there for parish councils, but I know things have been a bit awkward on ours as there have been differences of opinion for a long time.”

In Slaley, only two candidates have come forward, leaving the council inquorate, and meaning a further four seats need to be filled.

There, clerk Pat Wilson will simply deal with correspondence and urgent matters while further calls are put out for members.

Among those standing down is current chairman Ian Hancock, who has been with the council for eight years.

He pointed out that the last time round, enough interest was generated to require an election, but speculated this may have been due to major issues at the time, including how the local pub would cope with the effects of the smoking ban.

“People are busy and they think they have to canvass for votes and put a lot of effort in, but it’s not like that at all,” he added. “All we need is one more person to come forward to allow the parish council to operate properly.”

In Bellingham, only five people have expressed an interest, just about making the quorum for the council of nine seats.

Current chairman, Coun. Jim Thompson, is among them and believes a lack of “doers” is largely to blame.

“There’s just no interest really,” he said. “Plenty of people have plenty to say about it, but when you ask them to come on the council, they don’t want to.”

Chairman of Acomb Parish Council, Coun. Charles Enderby, had a somewhat more optimistic take on the fact that only three candidates had come forward there, leaving four seats vacant.

“We have three top class councillors who have had to stand down because of increased commitments,” he said. “But we have a lot of people in Acomb who work for the community and we’re hopeful one or two will put their names forward.”

Other parishes seeing a significant shortfall include Falstone, where two have come forward, leaving four vacancies, Broomhaugh and Riding, where six out of nine seats have been filled, and the 12-seat Broomley and Stocksfield, where only four people are standing.

In Wylam, where longstanding parish councillor Philip Brooks won’t be standing for re-election, there are six candidates for eight seats

Elections are to be held for Allendale, Haltwhistle, Heddon-on-the-Wall ward one, Hexham’s three wards, Humshaugh, Kielder, Ovingham, three wards of Prudhoe Town Council, Rochester and Warden.

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