By David Spereall, local democracy reporter
Leeds’ longest-serving Labour councillor has confirmed he will stand down next year, after what will be 44 years of public service.
Councillor John Illingworth was first elected to represent the Kirkstall area of the city in 1979.
In recent years he has become a vocal campaigner on environmental issues and particularly on preventing flooding, which devastated Kirkstall Road on Boxing Day 2015.
He is one of seven Labour councillors set to leave Civic Hall next year.
Councillors Lou Cunningham (Armley), former MP Paul Truswell (Middleton Park), Denise Ragan (Burmantofts and Richmond Hill), Kamila Maqsood (Gipton and Harehills) are also standing down when their four-year terms expire in the spring. As previously reported by WLD, Julie Heselwood (Bramley and Stanningley) will be standing for election in Weetwood ward.
Headingley and Hyde Park’s Neil Walshaw and East Ardsley and Robin Hood’s Lisa Mulherin confirmed earlier this year that they too would not be seeking re-election in May.
Explaining his decision on Monday, Councillor Illingworth said: “I’ve reached 77 and I feel maybe it’s time I put my boots up. I’ve done over 40 years now.
“I won’t be giving up on politics. I’ll still be campaigning over various things, including for my successor as Labour candidate and around low carbon heating, which is something I’m working on at the moment.”
A keen cyclist and prominent voice within the council on climate change, in 2020 Councillor Illingworth hit out what he called ‘Donald Trumps’ among Leeds’ older population for a lack of willingness to address carbon emissions.
The Labour veteran said one of his highlights during his four decades in office was seeing Leeds’ children’s heart surgery saved from the threat of closure, in 2013. As chair of the Yorkshire and Humber health scrutiny committee at the time, he was involved in the campaign to rescue it.
He said he had a “sixth sense” that the case to close it didn’t stack up
Councillor Illingworth added: “That was a joyous moment (when we found out it was saved).
“They’ve got great staff and they’ve done wonders for patients. It’s right that we have children’s heart surgery here in Leeds.”
Asked if he had a message for the residents he’s served for the last four decades, Councillor Illingworth said: “It’s been great to know you.
“Kirkstall really is a lovely ward to represent. There’s a real mixture of people, of age groups of houses, of races and of opinions.
“They’ve always been lovely to me and they’ve been wonderful electors.”
Councillor Illingworth’s retirement leaves the current Conservative group leader, Andrew Carter (Calverley & Farsley), as the only serving Leeds councillor who was first elected in the 1970s.
Councillor Truswell, 66, is also retiring from politics after a distinguished career.
A former journalist, he was first elected to the Headingley ward in 1982, and later became Labour’s MP for Pudsey in 1997 – a role he held until 2010.
He then returned to Civic Hall as a councillor for Middleton Park in 2012
Councillor Truswell said: “There’s a satirical cliché about politicians standing down to spend more time with their families, but in my case it happens to be true.”
Armley’s Councillor Cunningham announced she would be standing down last month, having been first elected in 2019.
“I want to let people know that I have not put myself forward as a candidate for the local elections next year,” she said. “Until then, business as usual and although I will be stepping down from my role, I won’t be stepping away from my heartland Armley and my community.”