WE are barely two weeks away from the local elections in Somerset, with hundreds of candidates battling for the privilege of running the county for the next five years, writes Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter.

Voters will go to the polls on May 5 to elect 110 councillors across 55 divisions to represent them on the new unitary Somerset Council, overseeing the transition before Somerset County Council and the four district councils are officially abolished in April 2023.

More than 300 candidates have thrown their hat into the ring, with a handful of divisions set to be extremely competitive.

But equally, 100 existing councillors have chosen not to stand – including a number of prominent figures who have wielded considerable power over the last few years.

Of the existing councillors, 100 are not standing in the local elections – including one ‘twin-hatter’ (someone who is both a county and district councillor).

A total of ten county councillors are not standing again – meaning they will cease to represent their given areas once the results of this election are declared.

The other 90 people will continue to sit as district councillors in their respective areas until April 2023, but will not be able to stand again until the next local elections in May 2027 (assuming that no by-elections take place in the meantime).

In each of the four districts, there will be a substantial changing of the guard whoever wins the election, with between one-third and half of the existing councillors in each district set to leave local politics once their term is up.

Mendip District Council will see the biggest proportion leaving, with 24 of its 47 councillors choosing to stand for the new unitary authority – just over 51 per cent.

Sedgemoor, sees the next biggest drop-off, losing 23 of its 48 ward members (48 per cent), followed by South Somerset (25 out of 60 – 42 per cent) and Somerset West & Taunton (19 out of 59 – 32 per cent).

Of course, many of those not standing will be doing so for legitimate reasons – whether it be age, ill health, career commitments or simply having not been selected by their party.

However, there are a number of ‘big hitters’ who have helped to shape the county’s political map who will not be standing for the new authority – and many will be sorely missed.

Here are 22 big names who will not be representing Somerset in the years to come:


Christopher Booth

Chard & Ilminster News: Councillor Christopher Booth (Liberal Democrat, Halcon & Lane). CREDIT: Somerset West And Taunton Council. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

Another portfolio holder in Somerset West and Taunton, Christopher Booth won one of two seats in the Halcon and Lane ward in the May 2019 local elections. He had previously won the Halcon ward on Taunton Deane Borough Council in a 2016 by-election.

As portfolio holder for communities, he has pushed for Taunton to get its own town council (which will finally be created in 2023), as well as scrapping public space protection orders (PSPOs) aimed at curbing antisocial behaviour in Minehead, Taunton and Wellington town centres.

He also made interventions on the Monkton Heathfield phase two masterplan (which the council voted to scrap in September 2021), criticised Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s policing priorities, and helped to administer grants for voluntary organisations as part of the council’s post-covid recovery plans.

John Clark

Chard & Ilminster News: Councillor John Clark (Liberal Democrat, Yeovil Summerlands). CREDIT: South Somerset District Council. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

John Clark has represented the Yeovil Summerlands ward on South Somerset District Council since 2015 – a ward which includes the council-run Westlands Entertainment Venue and the town’s Summerlands dementia facility until its permanent closure in 2019.

As portfolio holder for economic development, he has masterminded the council’s commercial investment strategy, which has seen millions of pounds of public money invested in offices, retail outlets and other properties to provide long-term funding for front-line services.

In more recent times, he has backed extra funding for the revamp of the Octagon Theatre and the improvements to the town centre’s appearance as part of the Yeovil Refresh programme.

Nick Colbert

Chard & Ilminster News: Councillor Nick Colbert (Conservative, Wincanton). CREDIT: South Somerset District Council. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

Since he was first elected to represent Wincanton for the Conservatives in May 2011, Nick Colbert has been a thorn in the side of the ruling Lib Dems in South Somerset.

Mr Colbert has resisted numerous large housing developments in and around Wincanton – including 210 homes on West Hill – and has pushed for greater leisure provision across the area, criticising the council for being too Yeovil-centric in its spending.

He has also been a critic of the council’s regeneration efforts, describing the plan to improve Wincanton town centre as a “Trojan horse” for further developments.

Polly Costello

Chard & Ilminster News: Councillor Polly Costello (Conservative, Wedmore & Mark). CREDIT: Sedgemoor District Council. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

Polly Costello has championed her home village of Wedmore for many years, serving as chair of the parish council on top of her Sedgemoor District Council responsibilities.

To the wider public, she has made a name for herself chairing licensing hearings – including those for a new gin and vodka business near Cheddar and an ill-fated festival near Lympsham.

She was also a vocal critic of the Boundary Commission for England’s plans to put Bridgwater and the Hinkley Point C power station in separate parliamentary constituencies, describing the proposals as “a bit mad”.

Andrew Gilling

Chard & Ilminster News: Councillor Andrew Gilling (Conservative, Knoll). CREDIT: Sedgemoor District Council. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

Of all the current members of Sedgemoor’s executive, Andrew Gilling (who represents the Knoll ward) is the only one who is not standing for re-election.

Being portfolio holder for housing, he has spurred forward plans for new council housing in and around Bridgwater, and has been critical of more commercial developments – including one at East Brent in his ward, which he branded “one of the worst I have ever had the misfortune to come across”.

Anna Groskop 

Chard & Ilminster News: Councillor Anna Groskop (Conservative, Wincanton And Bruton). CREDIT: Somerset County Council. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

As division member for Wincanton and Bruton since 2009, Anna Groskop has become a familiar face in these two towns, helping to secure a much-needed extension to Wincanton Primary School.

In recent years she has carved out a niche holding her own party to account as chairman of the county council’s policies and place scrutiny committee, covering everything from libraries to improvements to local bus services.

Councillor Peter Gubbins

Chard & Ilminster News: Councillor Peter Gubbins (Liberal Democrat, Yeovil College). CREDIT: South Somerset District Council. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

Peter Gubbins has become a familiar face in Yeovil, having represented the town in one form or another for nearly 30 years since his first election in May 1995.

As the chairman of the area south committee, he has run a tight ship in ensuring major planning applications for the town are approved – including plans for the Brimsmore key site (642 homes), the Keyford site (800 homes) and the Mudford urban extension (765 homes).

He made national headlines early on in the coronavirus pandemic when he chaired South Somerset’s first virtual meeting – a meeting which ended up being suspended after trolls hacked in and shared obscene adult content.

In more recent times, he has been the driving force behind the Yeovil Refresh programme – and opposition candidates may view his decision not to stand as an admission that the different elements have not achieved the desired result.

Marcia Hill

Chard & Ilminster News: Councillor Marcia Hill (Liberal Democrat, Wellsprings & Rowbarton). CREDIT: Somerset West And Taunton Council. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

A former mayor of Taunton, Marcia Hill was been a prominent face in the county town long before she won her current seat of Wellsprings & Rowbarton in 2019.

She has been a vocal opponent of numerous housing developments in and around Taunton, including the initial plans for a retirement community on the River Tone – though she did recently welcome the creation of 54 new council houses in Minehead.

She has also campaigned for higher rates of recycling across the county and was one of the main figures who fought against the closure of 40 Commando’s base in Norton Fitzwarren in late-2018.

Mark Keating

Chard & Ilminster News:

Mark Keating has had an eventful five years since he was first elected to the Coker division in May 2017, going from the Conservative vice-chairman of the council to sitting as an independent after breaking the council’s code of conduct.

In his division, he has courted controversy through his ultimately unsuccessful proposal to build 35 new homes in the village of Haselbury Plucknett near Crewkerne, with the police being called in to investigate allegations that he had damaged water vole habitats (allegations which he denied).

Tom Killen

Chard & Ilminster News: Councillor Tom Killen (Conservative, Chewton Mendip & Ston Easton). CREDIT: Mendip District Council. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

A former deputy leader of Mendip District Council before the Conservatives were voted out in 2019, Tom Killen has continued to be a powerful voice for the Chewton Mendip & Ston Easton ward, representing the villages between Cheddar and Wells.

As leader of the Conservative opposition group, he has been outspoken on numerous matters in recent years – including the development of the Easthill site in Frome (which was withdrawn), a possible bypass north of the Glastonbury Festival site, and the prospect of a new railway station near Shepton Mallet.

He has also been a firm hand when it comes to development, opposing a tractor dealership setting up on the edge of the Mendip Hills area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) and calling for a rethink on development the Keyford area in Frome.

Richard Lees

Chard & Ilminster News: Councillor Richard Lees (Liberal Democrat, Victoria). CREDIT: Somerset West And Taunton Council. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

Another former mayor of Taunton, Richard Lees is the current vice-chair of Somerset West and Taunton Council and a familiar face in his Victoria ward – which includes the Firepool regeneration site and much of the town centre.

Before the recent reshuffle, Mr Lees held the sports, parks and leisure portfolio, overseeing improvements to Vivary Park, moving to a new leisure provider for the town’s pools and leisure centres, and fighting for a new skate park near Musgrove Park Hospital.

Sue Lees

Chard & Ilminster News:

Taunton’s current mayor Sue Lees – who is married to fellow councillor Richard Lees – has embraced her ceremonial role, representing the council at important civic events.

Among other things, she was present at the opening ceremony for the rainbow path which now runs through Goodland Gardens in the town centre – believed to be the first of its kind on the British mainland.

Jane Lock

Chard & Ilminster News: Councillor Jane Lock (Liberal Democrat, Yeovil West). CREDIT: Somerset County Council. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

For much of her time as division member for Yeovil West, Jane Lock was one of the main opposition voices on the county council, leading the Liberal Democrat opposition ground against the ruling Conservative administration.

Since her replacement by Bill Revans in August 2021, she has been somewhat quieter in public meetings, though she has continued to hold the council to account during the early stages of the transition period to the new authority.

Barry O’Leary

Chard & Ilminster News: Councillor Barry O\'Leary (Liberal Democrat, Creech). CREDIT: Mendip District Council. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

Barry O’Leary, who represents the Creech ward near Shepton Mallet, is arguably the most senior Mendip member who is not standing – being its deputy leader and portfolio holder for enterprise and finance.

In addition to his executive responsibilities, he has been a prominent advocate for bringing employment and quality development to local villages, resisting attempts to build a new housing estate of around 120 homes on the former Greencore factory site in Evercreech.

Sam Phripp

Chard & Ilminster News: Councillor Sam Phripp (Liberal Democrat, Ashwick, Chilcompton & Stratton). CREDIT: Mendip District Council. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

Before his election to the Mendip ward of Ashwick, Chilcompton and Stratton, Sam Phripp became the youngest ever county councillor when he was elected to the Frome North division – only to quit over claims that he had been bullied by other councillors.

In more recent times, Mr Phripp has carved out a niche chairing licensing meetings, including several contentious hearings regarding the conducts of the Glastonbury Festival’s organisers.

David Recardo

Chard & Ilminster News:

A multiple-time mayor of Yeovil, David Recardo has represented the Yeovil Lyde ward (which includes Yeovil Pen Mill railway station) consistently since 2007.

In recent times, he has chaired numerous licensing hearings – including those into the future of the Shindig Festival and the prospect of a cider company setting up shop just outside Ilminster.

Tom Ronan

Chard & Ilminster News: Councillor Tom Ronan (Liberal Democrat, Wells St Thomas). CREDIT: Mendip District Council. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

As Mendip’s portfolio holder for climate change, Tom Ronan has been instrumental in seeing numerous green measures implemented since the council declared a climate emergency back in 2019.

Since his election, the Wells St. Thomas ward member has called on tougher penalties for fly-tippers following a spike in incidents recorded across the district, and advocated using the River Frome to generate hydroelectric power.

Helen Sprawson-White

Chard & Ilminster News: Councillor Helen Sprawson-White (Liberal Democrat, Frome Oakfield). CREDIT: Mendip District Council. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

In her capacity as Mendip chair, Helen Sprawson-White has campaigned for greater awareness of mental health issues – including a new display on the Saxonvale site during mental health awareness week in May 2021.

While she has consistently worked to represent her Frome Oakfield constituents, she has been granted a sabbatical from attending council meetings due to her personal circumstances.

Nigel Taylor

Since his election in May 2017, Nigel Taylor has made numerous contributions as both chair of the county council and a member of its regulation committee, lobbying for local quarries to stay open in a bid to secure local jobs.

Tragically, Mr Taylor announced in February 2021 that he had been diagnosed with cancer – and revealed a year later that he had only a few months to live.

Anthony Trollope-Bellew

Chard & Ilminster News: Councillor Anthony Trollope-Bellew (Conservative, South Quantock). CREDIT: Somerset West And Taunton Council. Free to use for all BBC wire partners.

A former leader of West Somerset Council, Conservative councillor Anthony Trollope-Bellew was elected to the South Quantock ward when the new Somerset West and Taunton Council was created in 2019.

In opposition he has been relatively quiet – though in early-2021 he was a vocal critic of how Avon and Somerset Constabulary distributes its resources, claiming that rural areas do not get a fair deal.