A PUBLIC row has broken out between the three leading political figures in north Durham.

Derwentside District Council leader Alex Watson hit back at a call by his MP Kevan Jones that the authority should be abolished and was 'about as popular as a dose of the plague.'

Mr Watson was joined by Chester-le-Street District Council leader Malcolm Pratt, who responded to Mr Jones' argument that Chester council should also be abolished.

MP Kevan Jones had made his comments last Thursday in a packed public meeting at Stanley Civic Hall to discuss the regeneration of Stanley

He argued, as Alex Watson looked on in silence, that Stanley had been allowed to decline since Derwentside council replaced the old urban district council in the 1970s. He said Chester-le-Street council, also in his constituency, was unpopular. The councils would be replaced by town councils which could provide a more effective voice in a new system of government.

But this week Coun Watson said Derwentside council had been set up as thousands of jobs were lost in coal and steel.

He said: "It is entirely without justification for an MP, namely Kevan Jones, to slam councils without first trying to understand the position and find the facts. We will continue to invest in Stanley and across the district in the way we can given our extremely limited resources."

Malcolm Pratt cited a 78 per cent satisfaction rating for Chester-le-Street council in a survey by the Government audit commission.

He said: "The suggestion by our MP that Chester-le-Street is not a popular council is a load of rubbish. More people took part in that survey than voted for him in the general election and we are more popular than Newcastle council where Kevan Jones was deputy leader just one year ago. He should think about that."

Kevan Jones said: "It is clear to anyone in both areas that the councils are not well regarded."

Coun Watson later said he had not been invited to speak at the meeting which was, in turn, disputed by Kevan Jones.