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NORTHUMBERLAND: Count down to Hexham county council by-election

NORTHUMBERLAND: Count down to Hexham county council by-election

Hexham East By Election 2021 candidates Clockwise from top right: Suzanne Fairless-Aitken (Lib Dem); Jonathan Wheeler (Lab); Stephen Ball (Con); Lee Williscroft-Ferris (Ind). Centre, former county councillor Ca

A four-way by-election battle for control of Northumberland County Council is heading towards a conclusion.

Hexham East county councillor Cath Homer quit the local authority last month, taking with her the county’s ruling Conservative Party’s slim majority of one.

The town’s former representative stood down citing a campaign of “malicious” abuse against her after she became embroiled in a row over the suspension of the council’s chief executive.

Since then however, claims have emerged in a report by an external investigator that she may also have breached local authority rules with “inappropriate” behaviour and comments.

Polls are due to open in the contest on Thursday, December 16 – the same day voters in North Shropshire are due to cast their vote in a parliamentary by-election triggered by the resignation of sitting MP Owen Paterson in a row over lobbying.

The quartet seeking to replace her includes Lib Dem candidate Dr Suzanne Fairless-Aitken, who was runner-up to Homer in May’s round of local elections.

Also standing is Fairless-Aitken’s colleague on Hexham Town Council, Lee Williscroft-Ferris, who has got regeneration and negligent landlords in his sights, should he be successful.

He said: “People are really concerned about sites being vacated, like the bus station and Hexham Middle School.

“One thing I would want to do is see a development plan to redevelop those sites with the community in mind.

“Another thing people talk about is a lot of historic buildings becoming a bit dilapidated and I would be prepared to use [county council powers] to force landlords to take more care.”

A French and German teacher and translator by day, Williscroft-Ferris is the only independent candidate not representing a political party, something he thinks it needed to help Hexham address its issues.

Of the town’s two other council wards, Hexham West and Hexham Central with Acomb, the former is also represented by an independent councillors, Derek Kennedy, and the latter by Trevor Cessford, a Conservative.

Seeking to hold the seat for the Tories is Stephen Ball, another serving member of Hexham Town Council (HTC).

The only candidate who does not already sit on HTC is Labour’s Jonathan Wheeler, who is currently a member of Prudhoe Town Council.

While failure in the contest would cost the Conservatives their majority control of the council chamber, they would remain in charge as the single largest political group.

Words: James Harrison, Local Democracy Reporter

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