The battle to challenge Labour’s dominance in Neath Port Talbot
Ted Peskett, local democracy reporter
A number of wards across Neath Port Talbot are predicted to go down to the wire in this year’s local government elections.
With 34 candidates running for seats on Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council (NPTCBC) on May 5, Plaid Cymru are the party mounting the biggest challenge to Labour, who have 49 candidates challenging this year.
Also looking to unsettle Labour’s 26-year dominance in the county borough – having won a majority in every local government election since NPTCBC’s foundation in 1996 – are the independents, who have 32 candidates running.
A key priority for Plaid Cymru will be retaining their seats in Aberavon – a ward where they held overall control before the 2022 local election period. The ward will be represented by two councillors instead of three this year after a revision of the ward boundaries.
“That ward is going to be very keenly contested again,” said Plaid Cymru chair for Aberafan, Mark Edwards.
“I think we will definitely take one seat and it is going to be very close I would think between Stephanie Lynch and one other Plaid Cymru [candidate] for the other seat.”
Stephanie Lynch won the Aberavon byelection, which took place in May 2021 after the passing of Labour councillor Steffan ap Dafydd, by 677 votes (39%).
The Plaid candidate who will be looking to retain their seat alongside Stephanie will be Nigel Thomas Hunt. Having been defeated in the last byelection, Andrew Dacey is making a second attempt for a place on the council and will be the other Plaid candidate running in Aberavon.
Other candidates fighting it out for a seat include Dean Thomas for Labour, Ieuan Bounds for the Welsh Conservative and independent Ceri Golding.
Margam and Tai-bach
Following the ward boundary changes, Margam and Tai-bach are two of the electoral divisions that have amalgamated into one with three seats available.
Two Labour Tai-bach councillors, Anthony J. Taylor and Rachel Taylor have decided not to run for re-election this year. There were no Plaid Cymru candidates running in either ward in the last local government elections.
Although Labour won relatively comfortably in both Taibach and Margam in 2017, they are expected to have more of a fight on their hands this year with an equal number of Plaid candidates coming up against them.
This year, the three Labour candidates running there – Laura Williams, Dennis Keough and Rob Jones – will be coming up against Wayne White, Stephen Bevan and John Deere of Plaid Cymru.
Labour have the greater experience here, with Dennis Keough and Rob Jones looking for re-election to NPTCBC.
Conservative candidate, Anthony O’Shea, and independent John Bamsey will also be running for seats in the ward.
Some Plaid figures, including group leader at NPTCBC before the 2022 election period, Alun Llewelyn, would see holding their gains in the Swansea Valley as a success, especially with Pontardawe councillor Linet Purcell deciding not to run for re-election.
However, Neath is one place where the party is looking to make some gains.
Neath North and Neath East were held fairly comfortably by Labour in the 2017 elections. Neath South, on the other hand saw a Plaid Cymru gain, with Jamie Evans topping the polls there ahead of Peter Rees and Andrew Jenkins.
This year, both Plaid and Labour have matched up with an equal number of candidates in Neath South and East. Jonnie Fishlock and Poppy Lloyd for Plaid will be up against the experienced Peter Rees and Rose Widlake for Labour in Neath South.
Two independent candidates – Carl Jordan and Adam McGrath will also be running for election in the ward.
In Neath East, Plaid’s Dan Thomas, Breándan Mac Cathail and Joshua Cooze will be up against John Miller, Sandra Miller and Sheila Penry for Labour. Joining them in the race for the three available seats is independent candidate Wayne Carpenter.
Described as a “toxic battleground”, it is predicted that Briton Ferry could go either way in the elections with one Labour, Plaid and independent candidate running in both wards – Briton Ferry East and Briton Ferry West.
Mark Edwards, who said that Plaid have been trying to get their foot into Briton Ferry for a long time, said: “I really can’t predict how it is going to go there.”
Three councillors running in Briton Ferry – independent, Chris James, and Plaid candidates Lindsay Barnett and Delyth Barnett – are Labour defectors. Lindsay and Chris will be coming up against Labour’s Gareth Rice in Briton Ferry East.
Delyth Barnett will be fighting Sarah Davies of Labour and independent Kirsty Morris for the single seat in Briton Ferry West.
When asked for their thoughts on the local elections and where the key battlegrounds for the county borough could be, a Neath Port Talbot Labour spokesperson said: “The election in May is about moving forward together. We are running an inclusive, hopeful campaign, with a strong field of candidates reflective of our diverse communities right across Neath Port Talbot.
“The pandemic shone a light on the vital role that the local council plays in delivering those essential services which mean so much to us all. It was a Labour council that was on the front line supporting the vulnerable, distributing weekly food boxes, keeping schools open for the children of key workers and turning culture and leisure hubs into mass vaccination centres.
“Voters will rightly look at what the parties are promising for the future of Neath Port Talbot, this will be what we are judged on in May and we will continue to work hard for every single vote, in every single community.”
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