There are no council elections in Northumberland this year, but a by-election is taking place for the vacant seat in the Holywell ward.
One new county councillor is to be elected next Thursday following the death in February of Labour’s Bernard Pidcock, whose daughter Laura Pidcock is the MP for North-West Durham and Shadow Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
At the first full council meeting after his passing, tributes were paid to Coun Pidcock by Conservative council leader Peter Jackson and Labour colleague, Coun Susan Dungworth.
Coun Dungworth, recently named the new leader of the Labour group, said that ‘we are all the poorer for not having him with us’, while Coun Jackson described him as ‘a very dedicated councillor’ and ‘a great champion of his community’.
Bidding to be his successor in representing the division, which includes Seaton Delaval and Holywell Village, are Labour’s Leslie Bowman, Conservative Maureen Levy and Lib Dem Anita Romer.
Each of the candidates provided a statement about themselves and their campaign, which follow below in alphabetical order by surname.
Leslie Bowman, Labour
I am the Labour candidate in the county council by-election for the Holywell ward to be held on May 2. The by-election has been caused by the sudden death of my colleague and friend Bernard Pidcock, who served the residents of Holywell ward from 2013.
I have lived in Holywell and Seaton Delaval for 40 years and have been a parish councillor for this area for six years. As a parish councillor, I worked very closely with Bernard on behalf of the residents of the area, to ensure that their views were represented at both county and parish council level.
I shall continue to work in the best interests of Holywell and Seaton Delaval residents if I am now elected to serve the residents at county-council level.
Labour Party values of fairness and justice have always inspired my political work, both as a councillor and in my work for the Labour Party.
These values also inform my work in the community, for instance, as secretary and treasurer of the Astley Park Community Partnership, membership of Holywell in Bloom, assisting Friends of Holywell Dene. Other community work has involved setting up a monthly drop-in service with Action on Hearing Loss for all the residents of Seaton Valley.
I will continue to advocate the key issues which I have been pursuing on behalf of local residents’ concerns, these include the following:
Road safety crossing at Astley High School with improved traffic calming.
Improved road safety in Holywell Village that will make it easier to cross the busy A192 and a safer position for the bus stop and shelter southbound.
I am also concerned with speeding traffic on roads in and around our housing estates where children are potentially at risk and will ensure that appropriate road- safety systems are put in place.
Improved provision for children and young people is badly needed, eg, a new first school at Holywell is required as the school was erected in 1938 and has leaking rainwater issues.
A play park in the Hastings Park Estate is required for the new wave of young families that are moving into this part of Holywell and Seaton Delaval. I have laid the foundations for youth clubs in Seaton Delaval and Holywell.
Environmental improvements – I would support no further increases to garden waste bin payments, better care of our surrounding countryside and tackling the problem of fly-tipping.
I am a strong supporter in caring for the ancient woodland on our own doorstep, Holywell Dene. This is a wonderful asset that is enjoyed by many visitors and residents of Holywell. I will continue to assist where possible to protect and improve our countryside.
Astley Park – This park needs continued investment and now is the time to refresh this vital asset. I would like to see improved playing fields and new play park equipment that meets the needs of children of all ages.
Transport – I would like to see improved bus services for Seaton Valley, building on my successful campaign to save the evening 57 bus service. I will campaign for a railway station at Seaton Delaval that will link residents of Holywell Ward to Newcastle in under 10 minutes.
This station will be a connection to the East Coast Mainline and a vital link for commuters to Newcastle and Tyneside. It was the last Labour county council that instigated this important link and under the current Conservative administration it has come to a standstill.
I wish to open up and improve cycle tracks and walkways that link our villages to North Tyneside and other parts of Northumberland. This is an eco-way of travelling and an excellent way to enjoy our beautiful environment.
Housing – Improved housing is needed for the older generation that is more suitable for their needs and more facilities are also needed to promote an active lifestyle.
Although Labour is currently in opposition at county council, the main issues I will be opposing, together with my Labour colleagues, will be the wrong choices being made by the Tory council which are damaging vulnerable groups of all ages across Northumberland.
The Tories, by making ill-chosen cuts to financial support for important services, particularly in the Seaton Valley and similar areas, are damaging the social fabric of many Northumberland communities.
I intend to work closely with my Labour county council colleagues in Seaton Valley in particular to ensure the best joint representation of the interests of the three adjacent wards on issues relating to council services, housing, education, businesses, jobs, and an improved green environment.
As a parish councillor, I have been representing the views of Seaton Valley Council on planning issues to the county council and will continue my involvement in planning and transport matters if elected to the county council as your Labour representative on May 2.
Maureen Levy, Conservative
In an interview, Maureen Levy said: “Holywell is such a lovely, lovely place that needs to be nurtured. I have worked there over the years and live about three miles away so when the opportunity came up, I applied straight away and was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to stand.
“I’m standing on three main issues, firstly, around the schools. Astley and Whytrig have been promised new schools and have been in dire need of new schools for a long, long time. Now, money has been put forward to spend on them.
“People have been telling me that Holywell’s first school has some issues, so we have managed to secure investment for that too, so it’s great that all three will be sorted.
“Second is the rail service (the Northumberland to Newcastle line). Like everybody else, people on the doorsteps say, we have been promised this for ever and ever and ever and I have been in the same boat, but the Conservative administration is taking this forward and I will be pushing for a station in the area.
“Perhaps the biggest one is the former Coty factory, which has been taken over by Heather Mills’ company and could provide around 500 jobs, which is so tremendous for the area. If you think how many people lost their jobs when it closed a couple of years ago, it’s fantastic that this is happening.”
Maureen is keen to be another Conservative councillor ‘who will keep up the good work’ of the Tory administration at County Hall and she believes people in the Labour heartlands of south-east Northumberland are responsive to her message.
“I genuinely think – and I have talked to loads of people on the doorsteps – I genuinely believe you can see the difference now, the money coming in, and people are agreeing with that. I’m getting quite a positive message back,” she said.
“They (those who haven’t voted Conservative before) need to look at the progress we are making and the work we are doing. Holywell is a prime example, with Coty, working to bring in better infrastructure and the education – all these things people have said they wished something would happen, these things are happening now and they are happening because of the Conservative administration.
“Elect me and let us keep up the good work.”
Maureen, who works at North Tyneside Council, generally supporting older people, and her husband Ian, who stood against Ronnie Campbell MP in the Blyth Valley constituency last time round, both got involved in politics a few years ago.
She said: “I have to say it’s the best thing I have ever done. We enjoy supporting people and making a difference.”
Anita Romer, Liberal Democrat
The Liberal Democrat candidate in the Holywell by-election is Dr Anita Romer.
Anita is the only candidate with experience at a senior level of local government, having served as the portfolio holder for public protection, which includes the fire service and public health, during the Lib Dem administration at County Hall.
She also served on Blyth Valley Borough Council and was a founder member of Seaton Valley community council.
Anita said: “My campaign has been centred on getting Holywell Division its fair share of council resources.
“I think the under-investment over many years is now really beginning to tell; some of our estate roads are badly in need of attention yet not one street is mentioned in the council’s capital spend for the coming year.
“I also want to see investment in street cleaning and more grounds maintenance. Holywell division is a lovely place to live and the council must be made to invest in keeping it that way.
“Parking has also come up as an issue and I would like to see some thought given to how the problem can be tackled. There is a good range of shops at the Avenue Head and I’d like to encourage people to shop locally whenever they can.
“In these uncertain times, I believe having someone of my experience speaking on behalf of the residents of Holywell division will help get things done.”
Anita runs her own practice as a herbalist and is the organiser of the Seaton Sluice Music Festival.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service