VOTERS will go to the polls in a by-election which will determine who controls the council.

Residents in Marine ward in Worthing will elect a new councillor after Tim Wills resigned after being linked to a far-right organisation by campaign group Hope Not Hate.

Currently, the Conservatives hold 17 seats on Worthing Borough Council, while Labour have 16 seats. The Liberal Democrats have two seats on the council with one independent.

The election, which takes place tomorrow, could spark a change in council control - a Tory loss could allow a Labour-led administration to take power.

When the seat was last contested in 2019, then-Conservative councillor held the seat by 233 votes, a majority of more than eight per cent over Labour.

Four candidates are contesting the vote; Syed Ahmed for the Conservatives, Vicki Wells for Labour, Emma Norton for the Liberal Democrats and Sonya Mallin for the Green Party.

Vicki Wells, Labour

The Argus: Labour candidate Vicki Wells (left) and Labour councillor Dr Beccy CooperLabour candidate Vicki Wells (left) and Labour councillor Dr Beccy Cooper

Following a by-election victory in the same ward in 2017, Labour are hoping to replicate their success which would put them in contention to control the council.

Labour's candidate Vicki Wells, who has lived in the town for than 13 years, said residents have expressed to her dissatisfaction with the current Conservative administration, with some explaining they felt ignored and unheard by the council.

She said: "We've had lots of traditional Conservative voters absolutely despairing at the state of sleaze on a national level and being played out at a local level - demonstrated perfectly, sadly, because of the reason the by-election was caused.

"People are fed up to the back teeth and we are hearing it every single time we go out canvassing."

Ms Wells also said decisions taken by the Conservative government, including amendments to the Environment Act regarding sewage have caused "public outcry" in the town.

She said that, with 20 years of experience working with communities - including her current job working at the Worthing Theatres and Museum, she is the right person to represent the ward to tackle the housing crisis, address funding cuts to local schools and make Worthing greener than ever.

"People are really suffering and it is not okay anymore to allow the council to not do as much as it can possibly can to serve its community," she said.

Labour have gone from no councillors to 16 in the space of four years, which Vicki attributes to "common decency, the need for integrity and transparency".

Syed Ahmed, Conservative

The Argus: Conservative Party candidate Syed AhmedConservative Party candidate Syed Ahmed

Defending the seat for the Tories is local businessman Syed Ahmed, described by his party as a "hard-working community champion" who turned the kitchen at his restaurant into a community kitchen and donated over 400 meals to frontline NHS workers during the pandemic.

Living in the town for over 20 years, Mr Ahmed is also the only non-white candidate in the election, with the local Conservative Party saying that "in divided political times, it is essential that our council chamber is as diverse and inclusive as Worthing is as a town."

On the campaign, he has defended the Conservative administration's record, including the investment of over £150,000 in local play areas and shopping parades. He claims that the mood has been "very positive, even in areas that are traditionally less good for us Conservatives."

"It is a huge honour to have been selected to fight this important by-election and I am delighted to be standing up for the inclusive and diverse values that are at the heart of the Conservative Party," he said.

A spokesman for the local party hit back at claims by Labour that the Conservatives have taken voters for granted, and accused them of making vague promises that are light on detail.

"Offering change without being upfront about what this is, and how much it will cost is reckless and takes hugely for granted the trust and faith that people place in their elected representatives."

Emma Norton, Liberal Democrats

The Argus: Liberal Democrat candidate Emma Norton (right), on the campaign trailLiberal Democrat candidate Emma Norton (right), on the campaign trail

College lecturer Emma Norton is hoping to represent the ward for the Liberal Democrats, and especially hold the council to account on the environment.

If elected, her priorities as a councillor would include ensuring equality of opportunity and improve the marine environment, including regaining Blue Flag status.

"The council needs to be looking at ways to protect the environment, while promoting local business and looking after our residents," she said.

Ms Norton echoed the views of Labour's candidate, and said that the Conservative administration has been in power for a long time and have "taken the voters for granted".

Should the Conservatives lose in the election, the Liberal Democrats will be in the position of king-maker to decide which group should control the town as the other parties would need their support to form a joint majority.

However, Ms Norton said her group would back ideas over parties should the Liberal Democrats find themselves in that position.

She said: "We have a proud history of putting people before politics. Sometimes either party can have common sense views that will work in the best interests of our community, so having that balance in the middle is best for Worthing.

"We're there for the residents of Worthing and we need to do what's right for the community."

Sonya Mallin, Green Party

The Argus: Green Party candidate Sonya MallinGreen Party candidate Sonya Mallin

Following a series of recent by-election victories in other parts of the country, Sonya Mallin will be hoping to repeat that success in Worthing on Thursday to become the party's first female Green councillor to represent the town.

A mum, campaigner, project manager for a local college, and Worthing resident since 2007, Ms Mallin said she is eager to work with politicians and hold the council accountable for its new Sustainable Framework.

She said: "Our planet is on fire. We have to act now and act quickly if we are going to save the future of our planet for our children.

"We can't simply 'hope' things will get better and vote the way we've always voted. It's time for change."

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On the doorstep, she said she has seen others in the ward concerned by sewage still pouring into the sea, as well as whether local businesses and the town centre will survive another winter impacted by Covid.

She rebuffed claims that voting for her could inadvertently allow the Conservatives to be elected, and said: "People deserve the opportunity to vote for the person and the policies they believe in.

"There has been a sea change in how people are starting to vote with many now choosing to vote for the Green Party. Democracy is not best served by reducing the number of candidates and therefore choice for voters."

How do I vote?

Voting is open from 7am to 10pm tomorrow. Registered voters should go to the polling station for the by-election at St John's Church in Elm Grove.

Once you arrive at the polling station, give your name and address to staff and they will provide you with a ballot paper with the list of candidates. Notices in the polling booth and at the top of the ballot paper will tell you how to fill it in correctly.

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