TOMORROW will see seven candidates will battle it out for the vacant seat on Newbury Town Council.
The seat in Victoria ward became available following the resignation of Conservative councillor Emma Green who stepped down in February – less than a year after she was elected. Up until Miss Green’s resignation, Newbury Town Council comprised 23 councillors – 18 Conservatives and five Liberal Democrats.
The hotly-contested by-election, which takes place on May 5, promises to be even more politically-charged as it comes at a time when public services are being cut. The town council has found itself being sucked into the debate about West Berkshire Council’s cuts.
Here we take a look at who will be vying for your votes...
Dr Craig Hughes (Conservative)
DR Hughes grew up in Thatcham, where he went to Spurcroft Primary School and later to Kennet School.
He worked as a dental nurse while completing his A-level studies and during his gap year, before studying dentistry at Barts and Queen Mary University, London. After he qualified, he worked at a practice in Chichester. In 2010, he returned to Newbury and joined a practice in Victoria Ward as a dental surgeon.
Dr Hughes said that what brought him back to Newbury is its strong sense of community adding: “Newbury is a great place to live and work and I want to help it be even better.”
Gary Puffett (Labour)
CHAIR of Newbury Labour Party, Mr Puffett is married with two children and lives in Greenham.
He served for 26 years as a firefighter, attaining the rank of Watch Commander and works as a fire safety advisor.
He grew up in Lambourn before moving to Newbury in 1988. He attended John O’Gaunt School in Hungerford and returned to education in 2011, graduating with a masters degree (LLM) in employment law from the University of Leicester, in 2014.
He stood as Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Aldershot in the 2015 general election, finishing second. He has been a member of a trade union since 1981 and is lead workplace representative and secretary for Unite the Union branch SE/6257.
Mr Puffett says he remains concerned over the impact the extensive cuts made by West Berkshire Council will have on the people of Newbury.
Mr Puffett said: “Newbury Constituency Labour Party has consistently voiced concern over the cuts proposals and will continue to challenge the current local government.
"People quite rightly feel let down at the apparent disregard some councillors have shown regarding the impact of these cuts and now is the time to demonstrate that strength of feeling by ensuring the Labour Party have an elected representative in Newbury Town Council fighting their corner.”
Elizabeth O’Keeffe (Liberal Democrat)
MRS O’Keeffe was a Liberal Democrat town councillor in Victoria ward for four years up until May 2015 and continues to regularly attend town and West Berks District council meetings.
She has lived in Newbury since 1981 and, a resident of Victoria ward, says she is aware of the issues that concern residents.
After working as a teacher and manager at the Waterside Centre, she retired in 1999, giving her time to voluntary work.
Currently she is a governor at a local primary school, steward at Newbury Corn Exchange, trustee of Time To Talk, adviser at Newbury Citizens Advice Bureau and a flood warden.
She said: “I am rooted in this community and will stand up for it. Having been a town councillor, I know the commitment required and am keen to take it on again. I will listen to, and represent, all views. I am a ‘can do, let’s see how we can resolve this’ person.”
If elected, Mrs O’Keeffe says she will focus on maintaining CCTV coverage, more and safe cycle lanes, the introduction of a 20mph traffic limit in the town and restoring Victoria Park.
David McMahon (UKIP)
BORN in Newbury, Mr McMahon has always had his home here, currently in Victoria ward.
He wants to see Newbury thrive without losing its historic charm or any of its heritage.
His specialism is in planning and highways, in which he has been involved for more than 40 years in the private and public sectors.
Mr McMahon is active within Christian circles in the local area and is keen to see members of the town council working together non-politically for the benefit of all.
He believes he can offer a new voice within the town council currently dominated by Conservatives.
He said: “I am particularly concerned about the state of the road system around the town and feel I could provide an independent voice for change, having been involved in highways, transport and planning.”
Steve Wallis (Green Party)
MR Wallis has worked in the theatre as an actor, director and producer, and says he is “perhaps the only candidate for political office who has appeared on stage as “the ghost of Christmas yet to come”.
He has lived in Newbury for 12 years and, as a prominent campaigner with the all-party West Berkshire Save Our Services group, was featured on BBC television and local media reading his poem SOS (Save Our Services).
Steve experienced homelessness himself before spending three years working with homeless people in Newbury.
He has also worked providing social support to adults with severe learning difficulties, mental health service users and other groups, and is a volunteer listener with Samaritans.
He moved to Newbury 12 years ago and lives in the town centre, saying that one of his priorities would be to make Victoria Park greener and safer for children.
Steve said: “Politics to me is not about right and left – it’s about right and wrong.
“The Green Party is the only political party I’ve ever joined, because it’s the only party that makes any sense to me."
David Yates (Apolitical)
MR Yates has been involved in local politics for the last nine years and will be standing as an apolitical candidate.
He lives in the town centre of Newbury, having moved to the area in 1980 after serving in the armed forces.
Now a builder, Mr Yates says if elected he intends to hold the town council to account.
He was critical of the council’s decision not to keep the public toilets open as a priority, accusing councillors of spending elsewhere on “lavish, non-essential projects”.
He said: “One has to wonder why the council didn’t consider the impact on trade during their deliberations.”
Pointing to plans for a new café and water play area in Victoria Park, he added: “It’s time to pull the plug on these lavish vanity projects and spend what money we do have left on things we really need, like replacing the fence round Victoria play park.
“The town council shouldn’t be about party politics. Recently, rather than represent the people’s wishes, councillors seem to be representing their party’s own agenda. I want to shine a light on the decisions made.”
Lee McDougall (Newbury Community Football Group)
MR McDougall is representing the Newbury Community Football Group and is currently chairman of AFC Newbury Boys and Girls, providing football for more than 350 children each week through a team of volunteers.
He has lived in Newbury since 1981 and works at Vodafone.
He said: “We passionately believe football, like all sport, inspires young people and provides a focus for personal and physical development from early years and we’ve seen first-hand how sport can turn lives around.
“Newbury does not have anywhere near enough community football facilities, and West Berkshire Council want to close down Newbury football ground in June this year and leave it empty for years, without any provision for any replacement.
“We thought if West Berks Council, Newbury Town Council or our local MP won’t support keeping our community sports facilities open for us, we will do it ourselves.”
He added: “Newbury needs a vision for affordable community sport and wellbeing. I’ll ensure concerns that affect children’s futures, and individual well-being, are represented.”