A CONSERVATIVE MP who is also serving as an elected councillor on local authorities covering two different areas of the North-East has defended his decision not to stand down from the council roles following criticism from opposition groups.

Sedgefield MP Paul Howell, who has also served on Durham County and Darlington Borough councils since 2017 and last year respectively, said he would continue as an elected member of the local authorities until it became possible to hold elections as he wanted to offer residents needing help a point of contact.

The Darlington member for Hummersknott and Durham member for Aycliffe North and Middridge is facing calls from Green and Labour activists to announce when he will step aside from local politics.

The opposition groups have called on Cllr Howell to follow the lead of the Labour councillor Sam Howarth for Red Hall and Lingfield, who has stood down after moving from the area.

Thom Robinson, of Darlington Green Party, said: “Paul Howell cannot expect residents of Hummersknott to believe that he is effectively representing them, his constituents in County Durham and his Sedgefield constituents. Standing down will trigger a by-election for May when residents can democratically vote for someone to actually be present in the community.”

“The Conservatives like to talk the talk of following the democratic will of the people. Could we please see some democracy here in Darlington?”

Leader of Darlington council’s Labour group Councillor Stephen Harker said if Cllr Howell had stepped down from both councils immediately upon being elected last December, residents would have had a new representative before the first pandemic lockdown.

Cllr Harker said: “No one would have criticised him for throwing in the towel in the circumstances so soon after having been elected as a councillor.”

Darlington council records show Cllr Howell has attended six of the eight meetings he was expected to since being elected as an MP.

Cllr Howell said his original intention had been to stand down in May, to coincide with the mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections, that had been due to take place and stopped taking allowances from the councils altogether from the start of this financial year.

He said: “I didn’t see the point in the council going to the expense of having a by-election in that short period.

“The money that I received in allowances between being elected an MP and the end of the last tax year I donated to a variety of charities.”

Cllr Howell said he had believed he could manage all three roles for a short period, but added over time it had become apparent it was “almost impossible to do”. He said: “I do what I can and try to react when people contact me. That limited access is better than nothing for the residents.”