ELEVEN candidates are set to challenge for the opportunity to help influence how a local authority with a narrow majority carries out its various activities.

By-elections are being held in two contrasting Darlington Borough Council wards – Hummersknott and Red Hall and Lingfield – following the resignation of two councillors elected in May 2019.

Labour councillor for Red Hall and Lingfield Sam Howarth stepped down from the role, for which an £8,188 annual allowance is paid, after moving away from the area.

Conservative councillor for Hummersknott Paul Howell encountered criticism for continuing in the role as well as a Durham County councillor following his election as the Sedgefield constituency MP.

In response, Mr Howell agreed the role had become impossible to properly undertake alongside his Westminster duties, but felt it better to have someone in the role to act as a point of contact for residents in need.

As the Conservative majority on the council is narrow and the current administration has already suffered a policy defeat when two members of the ruling group voted against it, the outcome of the by-election could influence policies.

The council currently has 21 Conservatives, 18 Labour members, three Liberal Democrats, three Independent group Members, two Green Party members and one Independent.

At the last election two years ago, Mr Howell secured 672 votes, 42 less than veteran Tory councillor Charles Johnson, but some 267 more than his nearest other rival, Independent Alan Coultas, to become Hummersknott ward’s second council member.

Some 2,396 residents of the ward turned out for the vote.

The ward will be contested by Liberal Democrat Vicky Atkinson, Monty Brack, of The For Britain Movement, Thomas Robinson, of The Green Party, John Sloss, of the Labour Party and Conservative Jack Sowerby.

In recent decades, Hummersknott has consistently seen Conservative candidates returned as the wards members, with large majorities each time.

However, the Red Hall and Lingfield ward has seen much closer contests. In 2017, a by-election saw Labour Party candidate Sharifah Rahman elected with a majority of just 19 votes over the Conservative candidate, Jonathan Dulston, who has since become the authority’s deputy leader. That vote saw just 19 per cent of the 2,855 ward electorate turn out.

Mr Howarth received most votes at the 2019 election in Red Hall and Lingfield with 373 residents backing him, a margin of just 116 votes over the nearest Conservative candidate.

The ward will be contested by Janys Gandy, of The For Britain Movement, Mike McTimoney of The Green Party, Independent Cheryl Pattison, Mandy Porter, of the Labour Party, Conservative David Willis and Liberal Democrat Scott Wood.