MAY’S council elections in Barnsley could be the most hotly contested in years with the town’s BIG opposition group planning to field candidates for each of the seats in the contest.

The move is the latest twist in Barnsley’s increasingly complex political landscape, which saw Labour lose seats last summer.

Other candidates will also be standing, with the Lib Dems expected to put up a substantial number.

That party was the biggest single opposition group immediately after the election last May, but candidates who took seats for the Barnsley Independent Group and the Democrats and Veterans party joined forces to form the town’s official opposition.

Now they have announced their strategy for this year’s election, which involves fielding 21 candidates - covering all available seats.

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The candidates have yet to be announced but are said to be local people who know their neighbourhoods well, so will be well equipped to deal with the concerns of residents.

Existing councillors, including Victoria Felton, who stood as a Brexit candidate in the general election, Phillip Burkinshaw, who is the BIG leader, Andrew Gillis, Gill Carr, Sam Danforth and Trevor Smith met this week to make the decision.

In a statement they said: “The meeting determined to stand united for the people of Barnsley in May’s forthcoming local elections.

“The group aim to stand a full slate of local Barnsley residents in the wards around the borough in May under the Barnsley Independent Group banner.

“All the candidates are local people who know their wards, who are independent minded who want to change politics in Barnsley for good.

“A BIG local manifesto is due to be launched soon which has been put together following the feedback from residents over recent years.”

Coun Felton, elected last May, said: “The people of Barnsley need to be listened to.

“Everywhere I go residents feel that they are not listened to.

“We elected councillors need to understand that we are the people’s servants and we must respond to their views, their needs and their input.”

BIG leader Phil Birkinshaw said: “We have developed good working relationships and the future of Barnsley politics is looking good. The people will have a real choice - elect hard working independent councillors which can only be good for Barnsley.

“We have needed political reform for a long time and with a co-ordinated and sensible approach, I’m sure the public will respond with their support and their vote.”

The party will be putting together a new website to help publicise their campaign.

Barnsley Council leader Sir Steve Houghton said Labour would be fielding candidates in each of the seats and said: “As a democracy, people have a right to stand. They can rest assured Labour will be standing in very seat and have a strong track record of moving Barnsley forward and will continue to do that.”

Hannah Kitching, leader of the Lib Dem group, said they would be fielding as many candidates as possible, with 21 ‘a goal’.

But she added that the BIG leader had ‘consistently voted with the Labour whip in he 18 months I have been on the council’, saying her party was a genuine alternative to Labour.

The BIG group emerged years ago and was formed largely of former Labour councillors who had been deselected.

Its influence had faded substantially in more recent years but voting patterns in Barnsley have become more volatile in the last few years, with dissatisfaction over the Brexit situation being blamed by some in Labour for the rising popularity of other parties.

Provided by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.