(Re)drawing the lines

I have been informed that the Local Government Boundary Commission for England are planning to review the boundaries for Colchester Borough over the next couple of years. (This is the ward boundaries within the Borough, not the size and shape of the Borough as a whole)

I was expecting this to happen soon, as the growth within the Borough has meant that the discrepancy in population size between wards was getting rather large in some cases, and even if they hadn’t decided to run a review, we’d likely soon reach the point where one would have been automatically triggered.

The last review of the Colchester boundaries took place in 1999-2000. Up until that point, High Woods had been part of the Mile End ward, and the growth there in the 90s meant that ward was almost twice the average size, which led to Highwoods ward being created, as well as a number of other changes across the Borough – rearrangement of the rural boundaries, Wivenhoe being split into Cross and Quay wards, St Mary’s ward losing the St Mary’s area to Castle and becoming Christ Church amongst them.

The boundary review process is a lengthy one, especially as this one will begin with a review of the number of councillors for the Borough. The last review kept the number at 60, though there was obviously some redistribution of where they were, but there has been a trend in recent years for reducing the number of councillors, especially now most of the power is wielded by the Cabinet rather than the full Council meeting.

The review will look at the population at the time it takes place, along with projected growth in the Borough for the next five years, so there may well be big changes in areas to the boundaries in areas like Mile End and Stanway which are set to have a large boost in population during that time.

You’ve got plenty of time to think about this, as the review won’t properly start until August 2013, and that’ll just be preliminary data-gathering. Proper consultations won’t begin until 2014, with the aim being for proposals to be completed by early 2015, with a full council election on the new boundaries taking place in 2016. (And thinking purely selfishly, I don’t know what impact on my next election, which is scheduled for 2015 on the old boundaries)

The boundary review is just that, and can’t make any other major changes to the Council, though it can recommend whether we continue to elect by thirds or have all-up elections. However, it can’t recommend anything relating to unitary authority status, or suggest any electoral system for the council other than first past the post (even if that system regularly thwarts the will of the voters)

So, if you have any thoughts, please feel free to share them with me and I’ll feed them into the process when and where I can. There will be public consultations as part of the process, too.

Shares for rights, cash for seats…what’s next?

You can tell that Tories are in Government – suddenly, everything has a price and nothing has a value. After last week’s discussions over the ‘trade your employment rights away for a handful of magic beans shares’ proposal, we now have reports that Nick Clegg has been offered a deal over state funding of political parties in exchange for letting the boundary review go through.

What would be interesting to find out about this policy is who leaked it, because the very act of reporting it has made the likelihood of it happening drop down to effectively zero. It’s clear that certain Tories are desperate to resurrect the boundary review – though not so desperate as to allow Lords reform to take place, which tells you all you need to know about their actual commitment to democracy – but I don’t think there’s anything they could offer Clegg that would make the Liberal Democrats change their mind over it. Now that any change in that position – which was a slim chance anyway – would be linked to what looks like nothing more than a bribe, there’s no likelihood of that change occurring.

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