The seven Sunderland councillors standing down at the next election in May 2023

Tributes have been paid to departing members of Sunderland City Council as councillors with a collective service of more than 100 years prepare to step down.
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A total of seven elected members from across the local authority are not seeking re-election when their current terms come to an end in May.

:: Peter Gibson (Silksworth)

:: Peter Wood (St Michael’s)

Top (l-r) Steven Bewick (Ryhope), Helen Greener (Barnes), Len Lauchlan (Washington Central) and  Peter Wood (St Michael’s)
Bottom (l-r) James Doyle (Fulwell), Peter Gibson (Silksworth) and Louise Farthing (Washington South)

::Top (l-r) Steven Bewick (Ryhope), Helen Greener (Barnes), Len Lauchlan (Washington Central) and  Peter Wood (St Michael’s)
Bottom (l-r) James Doyle (Fulwell), Peter Gibson (Silksworth) and Louise Farthing (Washington South)

Top (l-r) Steven Bewick (Ryhope), Helen Greener (Barnes), Len Lauchlan (Washington Central) and Peter Wood (St Michael’s) Bottom (l-r) James Doyle (Fulwell), Peter Gibson (Silksworth) and Louise Farthing (Washington South) ::

:: Louise Farthing (Washington South)

:: Len Lauchlan (Washington Central)

:: James Doyle (Fulwell)

:: Steven Bewick (Ryhope)

:: Helen Greener (Barnes)

At the last full meeting of the council year on March 22, 2023, the majority of the meeting was dedicated to saying farewell to councillors, including some of the local authority’s longest serving members.

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This included Conservative Peter Wood who has served as a councillor for 40 years, with decades of this period representing residents of the St Michael’s ward.

Although his time on the council included some breaks, Cllr Wood was first elected in 1967 and over the years has attended council meetings at the old Town Hall, Civic Centre and now City Hall.

As a former leader and deputy leader of the Conservative Group, Cllr Wood was credited by colleagues for his contribution to citywide issues and debates in the council chamber, as well as his hard work locally in the ward.

Councillor Michael Dixon, St Michael’s ward colleague, noted Cllr Wood’s commitment to residents, interest in transport and “long and outstanding period of public service in Sunderland”.

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Cllr Dixon said: “It’s a career spanning decades yet rarely do I hear Peter talk to younger colleagues by referring to ‘things being better in my day’.

“Instead he has much preferred to live in the present rather than the past and to face each new council year as a challenge and an opportunity”.

Cllr Wood thanked council officers and colleagues and also welcomed the number of young councillors in Sunderland, adding “politics and democracy are alive and well” in the city.

He added: “It’s my 40th year and I have come to realise that you can’t go on forever whatever you’re doing, you can’t go on forever.

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“There comes a time to step down in favour of somebody younger with more energy and more enthusiasm and I think it’s the right decision”.

Another veteran councillor retiring included Silksworth’s Peter Gibson who was first elected in 1986, serving on several committees and outside bodies over the years as well as a spell as Mayor of Sunderland.

Councillor Phil Tye, Silksworth ward colleague, credited Cllr Gibson’s reputation in the community, time as Mayor and long-standing role as a governor at Farringdon School.

Fellow Silksworth councillor Patricia Smith said she had shared “many laughs over the years” with Cllr Gibson and praised him for “bringing the Labour victory back to Silksworth” and “living with the people”.

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Cllr Gibson, reflecting on the highlights of his Mayoral term, said it was a “pleasure and honour” to sail as a guest on HMS Ocean and that it was something he would “never forget”.

The councillor, who was also described as a “stalwart of the Labour Party”, thanked colleagues for their “tolerance” over the past 37 years and added he had “never ever had a dull moment”.

Elsewhere, multiple tributes were paid to Fulwell councillor and deputy leader of the council’s Conservative Group, James Doyle, who was first elected in 2019.

Tributes from across the chamber noted Cllr Doyle’s expertise around planning and development issues, his input into the North Sunderland Area Committee and his commitment to the environment and sustainability.

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Councillor Antony Mullen, leader of the Sunderland Conservatives, described Cllr Doyle as a “loyal deputy and close friend” who had brought “his keenness for diplomacy, moderation and calm” to the group.

Labour councillor Michael Butler also credited Cllr Doyle’s support and input around planning meetings and admitted the pair may have, what some Labour councillors have referred to, as a “bromance”.

Cllr Doyle said he was “slightly overwhelmed” with the comments from colleagues and that he was pleased to be able to work constructively with councillors from all parties over his term.

Independent Ryhope councillor Steven Bewick, who was originally elected as a UKIP councillor in 2019, also announced plans to step down.

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Cllr Bewick, an active firefighter, said he got into politics to try and help the residents of Ryhope and had enjoyed working with ward councillors over the years but was stepping back as he couldn’t currently “give 100% to residents”.

Conservative councillor Pam Mann, a former UKIP leader on the local authority, described the Ryhope councillor as “honest, dedicated and committed, reliable, approachable and the best buddy anyone could ever have”.

While admitting he may return to the council in years to come Cllr Bewick added: “What party it might be, I don’t know”.

Labour councillor Louise Farthing, who served as a Houghton member from 1998-2004 and then a Washington South councillor from 2012, is also standing down in May.

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Cllr Farthing, cabinet member for children, learning and skills, was credited as having a key role in improving the council’s children’s services Ofsted rating from ‘inadequate’ to ‘outstanding’.

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of the council’s Labour Group and Washington South ward colleague, said Cllr Farthing was a great friend and highly regarded in the community and would be a “terrible miss”.

Cllr Farthing thanked councillors, officers and Together for Children’s staff and leadership, as well as reflecting on her journey into politics and looking to the future of Sunderland.

Cllr Farthing said: “What a time to leave, so much buoyancy in the city centre, I can never remember anything like we have now.

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“The cranes in the sky, the green wall on the new car park and the film industry […] for me that’s so wonderful that all of this vibrancy is coming to the city.

“Because the other topic that you have all heard me talk about is child poverty and the only way we’re going to overcome child poverty is having good education and good jobs in this city.

“So I wish you all well with developing the city of the future”.

Other outgoing councillors included Labour councillor and Washington Area Committee chair, Len Lauchlan, who was first elected as a councillor in 2011 and independent councillor Helen Greener who was first elected in 2019 as a Conservative.

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Councillor Alison Smith, Mayor of Sunderland, said it was “wonderful to hear such marvellous tributes” and that outgoing councillors would be “greatly missed”.

Councillor Harry Trueman, a former council leader and former Mayor of Sunderland, also gave a message to all departing councillors.

He said: “To all those that are retiring, whatever you’re going to go into all the very best, because it takes a special sort of person to be a councillor.”

The full council meeting can be viewed via Sunderland City Council’s YouTube channel here: