THE starting gun has been fired for Durham County Council elections with the final nominations now in.

The Labour Party swept to power in 2013 capturing a total of 94 seats and increasing its majority from a slender nine seats to 62.

It is widely expected to keep its grip on power, but with fewer seats.

A total of 384 nominations have been submitted to contest 126 seats in the May 4 elections.

Labour is fielding 126 candidates, the Conservatives 76 and the Liberal Democrats, 49.

There are 38 individuals standing for office, along with 64 independent candidates, including 14 from the North East Party, who are contesting seats mainly in east Durham.

Ukip are fielding 14 candidates, focussing their efforts on wards such as Newton Aycliffe East, Craghead and Moorside, Evenwood, Blackhall, Pelton and Sacriston.

The Green Party is putting 17 people up for election. Activists hope to make a breakthrough with their lead candidate Jonathan Elmer in the Neville’s Cross ward, where longstanding Lib Dem councillors Grenville Holland and Nigel Martin are standing down.

Among the notable absentees in this year’s elections will be the long-serving Coxhoe councillor Mac Williams, who did not intend to stand but resigned early over continuing local government cuts.

Labour’s Thomas Nearney, who at the age of 19, became the youngest councillor in the authority’s history when he won a seat in Annfield Plain, will not be standing, neither will party stalwarts Cllrs Patrick Conway and Bill Moir.

Among the new contenders is Kevin Early, former deputy leader of Derwentside District Council, who is standing in Consett North.

In Spennymoor 14 candidates will fight for three seats and Tudhoe’s two sitting councillors Neil Foster and Barbara Graham (both Labour) face competition from four other candidates. Spennymoor Independents People Before Politics have fielded candidates for all five seats in the Spennymoor and Tudhoe wards.

Labour’s Pauline Crathorne who represents Ferryhill is standing for Bishop Middleham and Cornforth. Shildon Town Mayor Trish Pemberton, Labour member for the Shildon and Dene Valley is not standing for re-election.