NOW that the petition is complete for a referendum on the directly-elected mayor proposal (Echo, Feb 13), I hope to see an interesting debate on local democracy in Darlington.

There are strong arguments on both sides. Those against will point to so much power being in one man's hands. However, those in favour will point to how unaccountable the current cabinet system of local government has become.

Your Comment column (Echo, also Feb 13) rightly refers to various campaigns in Darlington over the past couple of years. Anyone involved in those campaigns is only too aware that a great deal of power already rests with a small number of individuals, with the remainder of councillors being virtually superfluous in the decision-making process.

On balance, I believe that an individual, directly accountable to the public he or she serves, would deliver a far more transparent and open manner of local government.

The mayor will stand or fall on his or her merits, and not be able to hide behind the cabinet system of closed doors and party allegiance.

If the yes campaign is successful, the current councillors, through their behaviour and inability to speak up for their own electorate, will only have themselves to blame. - Ian Holme, Hurworth.

I AM both saddened and mildly amused, though not amazed, by the double standards employed by Councillor Nick Wallis in his argument against having an independent directly-elected mayor in Darlington (Echo, Feb 9).

He states that 140 years of history would be swept away with the election of a mayor, but isn't that exactly what has been done to our town centre steps and balustrades?

Coun Wallis then goes on to say that the mayor would cost money. Of course he/she will, but any salary would be offset by not paying for a council leader and deputy leader and also the existing mayor's office.

I suspect that we may also see a pruning of the "chairs" of some of the more obscure committees and the expenses, running costs, etc, that go with them.

Coun Wallis states that people do not want a single person having sole responsibility for decisions, but isn't that exactly what we have now?

The council leader says "Jump" and the cabinet does so. Then, whatever the outcome, it is rubber-stamped by the council. Let's have the referendum and find out what people really want, or is Coun Wallis afraid of having his wings clipped? - Tom Bolan, Darlington.

THE success of the elected mayor petition is good news for the residents of the borough of Darlington.

Instead of having two MPs - Tony Blair and Alan Milburn - we will have the chance, should a referendum be positive, to elect one person to represent the whole of the borough's town and villages.

This will never allow the disgraceful antics of Darlington to subject its village residents with such disdain as it did over the Hurworth School merger scandal.

Roll on the day we can vote for an inspirational mayoral candidate, like Middlesbrough and Hartlepool have got, to light some fires under the three main parties which have let this town down for far too many decades.

Surely, as a result of a new powerful character on the scene, they would have to massively raise their game instead of the current dictatorial "we are right" management they have imposed on residents in recent times over the Pedestrian Heart, White Horse and Tesco fiascos. I can't wait to vote for a non- political party elected mayor. - Mark Anderson, Middleton St George, near Darlington.

IT was with interest that I read that Darlington could now have an elected mayor.

For too long, we have been the victims of party politics and an independent body would be a welcome change in the accountability of the borough council.

A strong character will certainly be needed and no doubt there will be some interesting candidates.

Having been a regular reader of HAS for some years now, I would have no hesitation in proposing the indefatigable correspondent Chris Wardell.

Though not agreeing with all his views, Mr Wardell's wit, humour and capacity to tell things how he sees them would be a valuable asset in a mayoral system.

We could then possibly see an end to the ridiculous red tape issues thrown upon us and start to smile again.- Kev McStravick, Darlington.


YOUR cycling article (Echo, Feb 10) gave the impression that the six-month trial to allow cyclists to ride through the Pedestrian Heart has started. It is my understanding that this period will start when the work is completed and monitoring can take place.

Tim Stahl, of the Darlington Cycling Campaign group, says that cyclists come worse off in collisions with pedestrians. As there is no mechanism in place to record such incidents, what evidence does he have to support this statement?

He also states that there is no danger and that it's just a perception of danger from pedestrians.

Unfortunately, it is this perception of the danger posed by cyclists that is making some visually-impaired people and elderly people think twice before visiting the town centre.

Not only that, but I believe that cyclists provide a real danger to pedestrians. There is a cycle path around the ring road so there is no need to cycle on the road or within the Pedestrian Heart.

Cycling must be in the correct setting and not impeding on the lives of disabled people. A cyclist has an option to walk; many disabled people have had their option to use footpaths reduced by unjustified cycle schemes. - Gordon Pybus, Chairman, Darlington Association on Disability.


I WAS shocked to read in The Northern Echo that the haematology unit at Darlington Memorial Hospital is to be closed to inpatients through the decision to centralise the unit at Bishop Auckland.

Darlington inpatients need to know that their families are close by and can visit them for short periods, and often. From experience, I know how important this is.

Even when the patient is at home, it is reassuring to know that the unit with its excellent advice, as well as treatment and nursing, is nearby.

I beg County Durham and Darlington Acute Hospitals NHS Trust to reconsider the decision. - J Beadle, Darlington.


FOLLOWING the recent speculation in HAS regarding the cost of the Town Crier magazine, I am writing to clarify the issue.

There is no dedicated budget for the magazine. The magazine pays for itself with production and distribution costs covered by income raised through selling pages for advertising.

Last year, the magazine made a profit, which was used to help fund the council's A-to-Z directory of council services, which was also distributed to homes and businesses within the borough. - Councillor John Williams, Leader, Darlington Borough Council.