Agenda item

Briefing by the Boundary Commission (Agenda Item 16)

Dr Peter Knight CBE DL, a Commissioner from the Local Government Boundary Commission, will be in attendance to brief Members on the Review of Breckland Council’s electoral arrangements.

Minutes:

Dr Peter Knight and Mr Arion Lawrence from the Boundary Commission gave Members a PowerPoint presentation on the Review of the Electoral Arrangements.

 

Mr Lawrence explained the background of the Commission which was independent of all Parties and reported to the Government, which in turn implemented its recommendations.

 

The criteria and reasons for making the recommendations were explained.  Two Wards within the District had triggered the review due to having significant variances of more than 30%.  They were shown on a map and copies of that map were available for Members on request.

 

The review would consider the size, Wards and boundaries of the District taking into account:

 

  • Electoral Equality
  • Community Identity
  • Effective and Convenient Local Government

 

The review could not consider Parliamentary Constituencies, District Wards or political implications.  It could not be based upon administrative units (such as school catchment areas) which did not reflect communities.  It could not abolish or create Parishes.  If a boundary was moved and a Parish was split, the Parish would be divided into Parish Wards.

 

The size of the Council was the starting point for the review and Members were asked to consider what the optimum size was by looking at their responsibilities and workloads and providing evidence.

 

In January/February the Commission would hold a meeting with Group Leaders and the Electoral Review Working Group to discuss proposals.  After that they would go out to consultation for six weeks seeking representations.  Both supporting and alternative views would be considered. 

 

During the review process information would be gathered on ward patterns which would involve all interested parties.  The Commission would deliberate on the representations received and then publish draft recommendations which would be subject to a further period of consultation, before the final recommendations were published.  It was important for Members to provide evidence to either support or object to the recommendations.

 

The final recommendations would then be laid before Parliament for 40 days, after which time they would be implemented by an Order.

 

It was stressed that all representations, either for or against the recommendations, would be taken into account.  They would also be published on the website and Officers would be provided with a copy.

 

If Members disagreed with the recommendations they were asked to put forward alternative ideas which needed to consider any knock-on effects they might have on the wider area.

 

A good review would provide a detailed but succinct rationale to support the proposed Council size.  Key issues to consider were whether the electoral figures were accurate and to include as many groups as possible.  Information was needed on areas of agreement and disagreement.

 

Mr Lamb sought clarification on the changes the Commission was empowered to make and was advised that the external boundaries could not be changed but the Ward boundaries within the district could be moved.

 

Mr Sherwood asked whether any public meetings would be held and whether the Town and Parish Councils would be visited and would be able to present verbal evidence.  Dr Knight explained that they did not usually hold public meetings or accept verbal evidence due to resource constraints.  They needed written information.  They would tour the district looking at the boundaries and visiting contentious areas but that would be done privately to ensure political neutrality.

 

It was clarified that representations would be published at the end of each respective stage, with personal information redacted.

 

Mr Sherwood was concerned that members of the public might not be engaged in the process and asked how the Commission publicised the review.

 

Mr Lawrence advised that there would be two briefings for Town and Parish Councils later that day.  The local media had been contacted and would be kept informed at every stage of the process.  Posters were available and would be distributed to the Town and Parish Councils.  There was also information on the website.  The aim was to have as far reaching a consultation process as possible.

 

With regard to electoral equality Mr Sharpe asked how large developments, due to take place during the five year forecast, were taken into account. 

 

It was acknowledged that that was a difficult area.  The Commission would speak to the Planners about applications that were in the pipeline.  They would visit those areas to see if development had commenced.  If they were not likely to start within the five year period, they could not be included in the consideration.  Forecasting was not an exact science, but they tried to get as close as possible based on the evidence available.

 

Mr Smith asked how electoral equality could be achieved in large Wards with disparate communities.  Previously there had been a criteria covering sparsely populated areas.  If that was no longer the case school catchment areas might be an important factor.

 

It was confirmed that there was no criteria in the legislation relating to sparsity.  Rural and town Wards were treated exactly the same.  Community identity might be evidenced by school catchment areas and could be considered if that was the case.

 

Dr Knight explained that the Commission published the information from previous reviews and he suggested that Members should look at what had happened in other districts and use that information for research purposes.  The Borough of Gedling in North East Nottingham which had a good rural/urban mix was a good example.  The Borough of Uttlesford which comprised rural/commuter suburbs had looked at the minimum number of Councillors and then added a safety net and representational role to determine its optimum number.

 

There were cases where Councils had provided evidence to avoid a reduction in size.  No two councils were the same and he advised that an individual approach should be adopted, within the criteria provided.

 

Mr Jermy raised concerns about multi-Member Wards like his own.  He asked if the review would consider the possibility of dividing such a Ward for individual Councillors.

 

Dr Knight said there was no agreement on the best way forward.  If the Council was able to take a resolution for single Member Wards, that would add another criteria to the Commission’s work.  In the absence of such a request they would carry out the review on the existing three criteria.  He asked Members to draft proposals in a way that conformed with those statutory criteria.

 

Mr Lamb asked if there was a ‘standard’ number of electors per Councillor and was advised that there was no ratio whatsoever.

 

The Chairman concluded by saying that the Working Group would formulate a response on behalf of the Council.  He thanked Dr Knight and Mr Lawrence for their presentation.