The Green Party’s candidate for Tees Valley Mayor has dramatically quit the race less than a month before polling day.

Sally Bunce was due to contest incumbent Ben Houchen to lead the Tees Valley Combined Authority on May 2.

But the Green Party candidate, a former police officer, withdrew from the contest on Friday saying she nor the Green Party had the resources to contest the larger parties and that she, "is not willing to do less than my best in any role".

The 55-year-old from Easington in Cleveland said in a statement: “I have taken the incredibly difficult decision to withdraw as a candidate for Tees Valley Mayor. Unlike the other candidates, who are professional politicians, I am a working mum who is heavily involved in multiple voluntary roles and local community campaigns.

"As a result, neither I nor the Green Party's resources can match the investment made by the larger parties. I am not someone who is willing to do less than my best in any role and I cannot do so now.

"I would like to thank everyone who has supported me, and I am sorry that you will not have the opportunity to vote for a Green mayor at this election. I will continue to campaign for the well-being of local people and the environment.”

She previously said she’d prioritise honesty and transparency if elected.

It comes after Tory MP Sir Simon Clarke posted to X, formerly Twitter, on Thursday saying a Labour whistleblower had told him Bunce was pulling out of the campaign and was “making an informal pact with Labour.”

A Labour source refuted the existence of any cross-party agreement.

The source told The Northern Echo: “There are no pacts, informal or otherwise. The only deal the Tories should be concerned about is the terrible deal they’ve delivered for the people of the Tees Valley.”

Sir Simon, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, posted what appeared to be a leaked screenshot of a local Labour Party WhatsApp chat on Thursday afternoon.

The chat shows a message which appears to have been sent by Redcar Labour Cllr Carl Quartermain saying, “Sally Bunce is pulling out of Mayoral (sic). Tells me she doesn’t want to split the vote.”

The Green Party said it was "disappointed" Bunce had chosen to pull out of the race and apologised to those wanting to vote green, saying it was too late to find an alternative candidate.

A party spokesperson said: "We are disappointed that Sally Bunce has chosen to withdraw as Tees Valley Mayor candidate at short notice. Sadly, her withdrawal was timed so that we could not stand an alternative Green Party candidate.

"The Green Party continues to grow in strength and support. We were looking forward to challenging the current Mayor on his record, and giving voters the opportunity to choose a greener, fairer future for Tees Valley.

"We apologise to everybody who wanted to vote Green in the Tees Valley Mayor election and are now unable to. We will continue campaigning in support of our North East Mayor candidate Andrew Gray, who will be pushing for the many changes needed to make North East communities fairer, greener and more resilient."

All candidates officially standing must have completed and handed in their nomination papers by 4pm on Friday (April 5).

Last month a shock poll suggested Labour’s Chris McEwan was on track to take 45 per cent of the vote ousting Ben Houchen, with only 19 per cent of respondents saying they’d vote for the Tories.

It implied the Greens were due to take five per cent of the vote.

But pollsters Censuswide drew criticism as some experts questioned the results which were not weighted to reflect the Tees Valley’s population, nor did the questions mention the candidates by name.

Recommended reading:

Get more from The Northern Echo with a digital subscription. Get access for 4 months for just £4, or get 40% off an annual subscription with our latest offer. Click here.

Bunce’s withdrawal could put Labour on track for an even bigger share of the vote.

It leaves Conservative Ben Houchen, Labour’s Chris McEwan and Liberal Democrat Simon Thorley as the expected candidates on the ballot paper.

The final list will be confirmed after the 4pm deadline for nominations on Friday.