Voters making their mark on polling forms this Thursday will be making history as a new dawn in local politics breaks in County Durham.
While people elsewhere in the country head to their polling stations to vote for who they want to see elected on to existing authorities, people in Easington, Durham and Chester-le-Street will be among those having their say in a contest which will make a real difference.
In a year's time, a new single super-council will take over, replacing each of the seven district councils and Durham County Council, as part of Government plans to bring in one authority.
It will be responsible for all services and will have offices based around the county.
Each of the two councillors elected in the 63 wards on Thursday will have a dual role for the next year, running the county council, but also developing and finalising proposals for the new unitary council.
Until the takeover, the services will continue to be run as they are, with the existing 312 district councillors to remain in post up to that date.
But will taxpayers see any difference in how things are run?
Dr Gidon Cohen is a lecturer of politics at Durham University and editor of the Socialist History Journal and co-organiser of the Modern British Studies Seminar Series.
He said: "It could make a huge difference to the politics of local government.
"The people it will affect most are the councillors, because they're going to be directing a new form of opposition in terms of a political challenge and how the council is organised.
"It also means that people who previously found they were dominant could be involved in a different political composition."
Although regarded as a Labour stronghold, with the county council and Easington led by this party, the North East has previously seen the Liberal Democrats make gains to take over the ruling of Durham City Council and the county council, showing a change can be made at the polls.
Those behind the move say the new council will have a number of financial benefits.
l Savings made by having one organisation instead of eight councils.
l Equalisation of council tax for main services, so all areas are charged at the same rate as the current lowest area.
l A reduction in the number of chief officers, such as one chief executive instead of eight.
The cash saved will be used to pay for improvements to services, making more available for spending and cover the cost of the reorganisation.
They say it will also become the biggest council in the North East and represent the county's interests regionally and nationally.
VOTERS can watch the election results come in live thanks to a special website at
www.elections08.durham.gov.uk which will access the results as they are announced, with the pages designed to be simple to navigate.
Users will be able to view the information on a county-wide basis or look at individual districts. It will also offer automatically-updated state of the parties information.
THE first Durham County Council elections were held in January 1889. It had 72 electoral divisions and in 32, candidates were unopposed – 43 of them were magistrates. The results gave the Conservatives a majority with 28 places, followed by the Liberals with 26, Unionists with eight, Working Men with four and others with six. It was 1919 before Labour first won control of the authority, with Peter Lee elected as its chairman. The political composition of the council today has 53 Labour members, five Liberal Democrats, three Independents and two Conservatives.
BEFORE 1968 the structure of County Durham looked very different from today. It had five boroughs, Gateshead, South Shields, Sunderland, West Hartlepool and Darlington, and four municipal boroughs, Durham, Hartlepool, Jarrow and Stockton-on-Tees, plus 20 urban districts and nine rural districts.
THE current structure of County Durham was formed in 1974 with the two-tier system. One of the eight, Darlington, became a unitary council in 1997.
The party's have their say...
THE Liberal Democrats are the only party offering a real alternative to decades of Labour neglect in Easington.
Local people are angry that the referendum of last year, in which 76 per cent of residents voted against this new giant council, has been ignored by Labour.
They also feel let down by labour's betrayal of the working classes, illustrated most recently by their plans to double tax for the lowest paid and to close local Post Offices.
The Liberal Democrats have a proven track record of working hard and putting local people first. We have won control of the councils in Newcastle and in Durham, where people have seen their neighbourhoods transformed by their local Lib Dem team.
It is at the grassroots level that the work of the Lib Dems is most apparent.
In cutting antisocial behaviour, in protecting local schools and in efforts to make our towns and villages cleaner and greener, the Liberal Democrats have led the way in fighting for local people.
THURSDAY is an important day in the history of County Durham. Voters across the county will be choosing the councillors who will lead us into a new era of local government.
Labour councils across the county are already among the best performing in the country and we promise to maintain those high standards as we move to one single unitary council for Durham. Labour's vision is of a new council providing top quality services for every community at the lowest possible level of council tax.
As individuals Labour councillors work hard all year round. Working with the Labour Government, we're investing over 400million to build new schools or refurbish existing ones. We introduced Sure Start and are committed to care for the elderly.
CONSERVATIVES in the Durham County Unitary Council elections are dedicated to speaking up for the people of County Durham.
Last year 76 per cent voted in a referendum against this new unitary authority and in favour of keeping the local district councils.
The Labour Government ignored the wishes of local people. Labour has taken the votes of the people of County Durham for granted and it's time to make our local voice count.
Council tax bills in County Durham have doubled over the past 10 years and the new local government re-organisation will ensure that these bills continue to rise.
Like Labour's abolition of the 10p tax band, their rise in council tax bills hits hardest those who can least afford it. We would campaign to reduce council tax bills.
THE word Independent means that one does not depend on another person or political party when endeavouring to win a seat in an election.
Candidates have no wish to be accountable to any of the major political parties, to do so would seriously curtail their function as an efficient representative for those voters who choose Independent to see their wishes and views to the fore in council decisions.
As Independents, councillors are responsible to those who elected them, and also to those who voted against them. This is how the most important element of political life is seen – democracy – something we see less and less of in the major political parties.
For example, the ignoring of referendums, local and national i.e retention of district councils and the arrogant dismissal of the EU result.
THE BNP has gone from zero candidates to 16 last May and are now standing a record 30 in the up and coming unitary authority elections in the county.
Sedgefield and Wear Valley BNP Group, Tony Blair's old constituency, is now County Durham BNP Branch.
This inexorable rise has been achieved in less than one year and the branch even has a number of other sub groups in development, operating around the county.
This success is due to the sheer dedication, hard work and good-old British patriotism of the branch leaders.
We believe historically that May 1 will be a pivotal point in the success of the Party, from London upwards, we, County Durham BNP, are in it to win it and we will never, ever give up until democracy is restored in this land.
People are turning to the BNP because they are fed up of the lies and spin of the mainstream parties.
It's not racist to oppose mass immigration and political correctness – it's commonsense.
Alan Cox – Labour
Rob Crute – Labour
Ray Gibbon – Liberal Democrat
Chris Hindson – Liberal Democrat
Bob Arthur – Independent
Tom Baxter – Liberal Democrat
Annette Crooks – Liberal Democrat
Edwin Mason – Labour
Charlie Walker – Labout
Edward Bell – Labour
Steven Colborn – Independent
Carole Harrison – Liberal Democrat
Albert Nugent – Labour
Neil Shaw – Liberal Democrat
David Boyes – Labour
Richard Burnip – Labour
Bill Graham – Liberal Democrat
John Lightley – Liberal Democrat
Pat Hudson – Liberal Democrat
Dennis Maddison – Labour
Mona Riley – Conservative
Paul Stradling – Labour
John Hudson – Liberal Democrat
Alan Napier – Labour
Alice Naylor – Labour
Mary Nolan – Liberal Democrats
Sidney Huntington – Independent
Audrey Laing – Labour
Brian Quinn – Independent
Gordon Tennant – Labour
Margaret Wells – Liberal Democrat
Ralph Liddle – Liberal Democrat
Geoff Pinkney – Labour
Barbara Sloan – Liberal Democrat
David Taylor Gooby – Labour
Geraldine Bleasdale – Labour
Derick Dixon – Conservative
Dan Myers – Labour
Margaret Reid – Conservative
Edward hall – Independent
Eunice Huntington – Labour
Christopher Saville – Liberal Democrat
Rob Todd – Labour
Stuart Walton – Liberal Democrats
Morris Nicholls – Labour
Margaret Norman – Liberal Democrat
Terry Unsworth – Labour
Brian Wilson – Independent
Joan Maslin – Independent
Kevin McGonnell – Labour
Len O'Donnell – Labour
Barry Solaimon – Liberal Democrat.
David Marshall – Labour
Kenneth Lloyd – Liberal Democrat
Trish Johnston – Labour
Eric Mavin – Liberal Democrat
Tom McCall – Conservative
Jenifer Wakefield – Conservative
Arthur Walker – Independent
Colin Clark – Liberal Democrat
Heather Clarke – British National Party
Henry Hudson-Evans – Conservative
Ronnie Rogers – Labour
Selina Ross – British National Party
Maureen Smith – Liberal Democrat
Paul Taylor – Labour
Christine Holt – Conservatives
Sarah Millerchip – Liberal Democrat
Dennis Morgan – Labour
Maria Plews – Labour
Dennis Smith – Independent
Carole Wigham – Liberal Democrat
David Bell – Labour
Jean Chaplow – Labour
Kathleen Currie – Conservative
Peter Gray – British National Party
Paul Guy – Liberal Democrat
Kirtsy Morton – British National Party
John Wilkinson – Liberal Democrat
Jan Blakey – Labour
Rhys Burriss – Conservative
Patrick Hague – Conservative
Katherine Lloyd – British National Party
Martin Ridley – Independent
Maggie Robinson – Independent
Adam Walker – Liberal Democrat
Mac Williams – Labour
Robert Wynn – Liberal Democrat.
Chris Arthur – Conservative
Katie Ford – Labour
David Freeman – Liberal Democrat
Tim Hughes – Conservative
Jonathan Lovell – Labour
Anji Rae – Independent
David Stoker – Liberal Democrat
Michael Bates – Conservative
George Burlison – Labour
Simon Carey – Independent
Rev Crooks – Liberal Democrat
Terry Moderate – Independent
Ralph Musgrave – British National Party
Mark Wilkes – Liberal Democrat
Marion Wilson – Labour
Pat Wynne – Conservative
Henry Cartwright – Conservative
Pat Conway – Labour
Ed Hastie – Conservative
Kevin Lloyd – British National Party
Peter Mitchell – Labour
Dennis Southwell – Liberal Democrat
Les Thomson – Liberal Democrat
Robert West – Durham Taxpayers Alliance
Christopher Allen – Independent
Stephen Ashfield – Independent
Nicola Heaton – Labour
Grenville Holland – Liberal Democrat
Nigel Martin – Liberal Democrat
Jonathan Roberts – Labour
Carolyn Smith – Conservative
Michael Smith – Conservative
Sheila Emmas-Williams – Labour
Helena Ferreira – Labour
Amanda Hopgood – Liberal Democrat
Pierre Kirk – Conservative
Helen Osborn – Conservative
Mamie Simmons – Liberal Democrat
Philip Wolstenholme – Independent
Lesley Broughton – Labour
Michael Fishwick – Conservative
Nick Hallett – Conservative
Raymond Pye – Labour
Jo Smith – Green Party
Maureen Wood – Liberal Democrat
Carol Woods – Liberal Democrat.
Chester-le-Street North and East
Beaty Bainbridge – Conservative
Lancelot Brown – Independent
Maureen May – Conservative
John Shiell – Labour
Tracie Smith – Labour
John Adey – Independent
Allan Bainbridge – Conservative
Keith Davidson – Labour
Brian Kinghorn – Liberal Democrat
Heather Liddle – Labour
Philip Nathan – Liberal Democrat
Nick Varley – Conservative
Chester-le-Street West Central
Jacquelyn Butler – Conservative
Simon Henig – Labour
Linda Marshall – Labour
Alan Bell – Independent
Rita Carr – Labour
Geoffrey Cutting – Liberal Democrat
Lucille Nicholson – Conservatives
Florinda Rowe – Liberal Democrat
Brian Walker – Labour
Julie Watson – Conservative
Audrey Willis – Independent
Ouston and Urpeth
Colin Carr – Labour
George Gardner – Liberal Democrat
Jeffrey Gray – Conservative
Denis Jackson – Liberal Democrat
Oliver May – Conservative
Maureen Potts – Labour
Jim Cordon – Labour
Peter May – Conservative
Mike Sekowski – Labour
Lynne Cowan – Liberal Democrat
Allen Turner – Labour
Mark Watson – Conservative
Ellen Waugh – Liberal Democrat
Anne Wright – Labour.
What the voters think
SHOPPERS in Seaham were undecided as to who would get their vote.
John Adams, 61, from Stanley Street, Seaham, thinks council elections are a bit of a waste of time.
The retired miner said: "It doesn't make any difference, they're all the same.
"I don't think the new County Durham council is a good idea, it means services will be too far away."
Alexander Brewster, 65, a retired joiner from Sophia, Seaham, is undecided as to whether the new council is a good idea.
He said: "I think we need more police walking around to stop these kids from hanging around. We need something to stop them playing football down Church Street; maybe more youth clubs or something like that."
Enid Kerton, a housewife from Station Road, Murton, says she would like councillors to do more in the village.
She said: "I would like to see something done with Woods Terrace; it's disgusting.
"I also think we need something for the people of Murton. We have the Glebe Centre, but not a lot goes on now like there was in the old days, such as evening classes and things like that."
Claire Campbell, 25, a full-time mum-of-two from Dawdon, thinks more needs to be done to clean up the streets of East Durham.
She said: "There's always dog muck on the floor, it's disgusting, especially when I'm walking my daughter to school.
"I think we also need more youth groups and more police on the streets."
Melissa Horsley, 26, from East Shore Village, Seaham, would like to see the council investing more money into Seaham.
Melissa, who dresses mannequins at Marks and Spencer, said: "I think the new council is a good idea.
If anything, I think it'll make things better and may allow more money to be put into Seaham. The town centre could do with some better shops.
"I also think there should be more nurseries in Seaham, because Sure Start is full. I've been on the waiting list for five weeks and I'm still waiting."
John Lambert, 40, from Camden Square, Seaham, said: "At the moment I'm not happy with some of the service. No one is collecting the recycling bins and they're starting to overflow.
"I'm not keen on the new council coming in because I think it's to large an area to control. The services are not fantastic and I just think they will get worse."