The nine Sunderland councillors standing down in the May 2022 elections, after serving more than 100 years between them

Nine veteran councillors will be retiring from Sunderland City Council at the next elections in may, having served more than 100 years between them.

Tributes were paid to those standing down at the last full council meeting of the municipal year.

The longest serving of the councillors standing down is Conservative George Howe, who has represented the Fulwell ward since May 1996 and served on many committees and outside bodies during his 26 years on the council.

Conservative colleague Cllr James Doyle said: “I think it’s fair to say George is somewhat part of the Fulwell furniture.

Top (l-r): Councillors Betty Gibson, Doris MacKnight, Tony Taylor Middle (l-r): Councillors William Blackett, George Howe, Shirley Leadbitter Bottom (l-r): Councillors Michael Essl, Barbara McClennan and Neil MacKnight.


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“He is known to residents as a hardworking, diligent councillor who has dedicated decades of his life to public service.”

Also standing down is Cllr Betty Gibson, who was elected in June 2004 in Doxford, with the Labour councillor chairing several committees during her time on the council, along with passionately supporting volunteers.

She said: “It’s been an honour to represent the residents of Doxford ward for 18 years.

“At times being a councillor has been very challenging, but rewarding and enjoyable, and hopefully I have made a difference, that was my aim.”


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First elected in 2006, the councillor served for four years before losing her seat in 2010, and then regaining it and returning to the council in 2014.

Labour Councillor Michael Essl, who was elected in the Barnes ward in 2010, and then in Ryhope in 2018, is also standing down, after serving on planning and scrutiny committees, Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority and other committees.

He said the 12 years has gone “absolutely in the blink of an eye” and it has been “fantastic” to serve on the council.


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Councillor Barbara McClennan, Hendon ward representative since 2010, has served on corporate parenting and scrutiny committees during her time on the council.

The Labour representative was previously an investigative journalist and public relations practitioner, as well as a further education lecturer.

She said: “I have some wonderful memories of work I have done with local people, who often felt they had nowhere else to turn.”

Her Labour colleague Councillor Doris MacKnight, elected in 2010 in the Castle ward, has also decided not to stand for re-election.


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She has chaired the council’s scrutiny co-ordinating and licensing committees during the 12 years, and has been actively involved with play groups, parent and teacher associations, Brownies and her local church.

Labour’s Councillor Tony Taylor, who has chaired Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority in recent years, is also standing down, after being elected in 2014 and serving Washington East since.

Meanwhile Councillor William Blackett is leaving local government to pursue a career in teaching history.

The Conservative was elected in 2018 in the St Chad’s ward, and has since served on economic prosperity scrutiny and planning and highways committees.


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Cllr Neil MacKnight, who has served as the chair of the health and wellbeing scrutiny committee, is also not standing for re-election, after the Labour representative was elected in 2018 in the Houghton ward.

He was previously a ward councillor for Washington East from 2004 to 2007, and in his work for the NHS he has been supporting the Covid-19 pandemic response.

He said: “I will miss the debate and the camaraderie and the friendship and sometimes the rivalry across the chamber.”

Cllr Henry Trueman, Mayor of Sunderland, thanked the retiring councillors for their contributions and services to the city, and wished them luck for the future.