AN INDEPENDENT candidate for the next mayor of Middlesbrough has pledged to create safer streets.

Andy Preston, who previously ran for mayor in 2015, but narrowly missed out to Labour candidate Dave Budd, launched his campaign at Middlesbrough Football Club’s Riverside Stadium on Monday.

Mr Preston, who is from Linthorpe, Middlesbrough, brushed off concerns that he would again be defeated in the poll on May 2 as he pledged to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour, attract investment, protect Middlesbrough’s green spaces and heritage, and assist with mental health across the town.

Out of Mr Preston’s five main pledges, the mayoral candidate said crime across the town was something he would actively reduce.

He said: “Middlesbrough has one of the highest crime rates in the UK, Cleveland Police has the third highest crime rate of any police area in England and Wales.

“I reckon that crime costs the economy £700m, based on home office numbers – in Middlesbrough, which is a tiny slice of Teesside, I reckon that makes up around £200 million.

"It’s never mentioned because, politically it doesn’t suit the people in power.

"When you’ve got an MP, mayor, a chief of police, who are part of the same group – what you get is people who won’t speak up.”

He added: “Our town has so much going for it but has been held back for far too long by narrow party political loyalty, self-interest and an alarming lack of genuine vision and business know-how.”

But for Mr Preston, who is chief executive of Sleepout, he claimed his industry-experience would also help to create jobs, as well as fill empty office space across the town.

He said: “At the moment we have office buildings, that’s great, but the problem is that the council are paying for them to be built with money they’ve borrowed and having empty offices is horribly expensive.

"There have also been way too many green spaces that have been eroded all over Middlesbrough – fantastic pieces of land have been ripped up with houses put on them – I will halt this.”

Mr Preston added: “What will convince the people of Middlesbrough, if I run this campaign as effectively as I can, is that the people have had four more years of a Labour based authority, where a political party is running the town, suiting itself and doing things for its own sake and not for the people.”

In response to Mr Preston's claims, Labour councillor Mick Thompson, who is also running for mayor, defended the running of Middlesbrough under Labour.

The Northern Echo: OPPOSITION: Cllr Mick Thompson who has defended LabourOPPOSITION: Cllr Mick Thompson who has defended Labour

He said: "Mr Preston's announcement comes as no surprise – nor is it surprising that he chooses to talk down the huge strides forward Middlesbrough has made since 2015 for his own political gain. Mr Preston accuses Labour of ignoring business and failing to bring investment to Middlesbrough.

"This flies in the face of £174m worth of investment and 1,000 jobs brought into our town since 2017 alone.

"While I'm not surprised he chooses to ignore these facts, I am disappointed at the disingenuous nature of his comments.

"While he talks Middlesbrough and its progress down, and tells its people about everything he thinks is wrong with our town, I will continue to be out in our communities and speaking to local people about Labour's positive vision for Middlesbrough.

“Whether Mr Preston likes it or not, it is clear that Middlesbrough is on the rise again under Labour.

"We need to keep it that way on May 2.”