Thursday, 17 November 2016

Time to Divide Houghton Hall Ward? - I say it's too big


Isn't it time for another review of ward boundaries in Houghton Regis, especially Houghton Hall?

I was a candidate in the recent by-election to elect ONE parish councillor for Houghton Hall Ward, of Houghton Regis Town Council. The ward ordinarily elects SIX town councillors every four years and TWO Central Bedfordshire councillors every five  four years.

Parkside and Tithe Farm each elect FOUR town councillors and ONE CBC councillor. It seems to me that it would be a simple matter to split the Houghton Hall Ward into two, allocating three parish councillors and one Central Bedfordshire councillor to each of the two new wards.

In a full election contest all SIX like minded candidates of a certain political persuasion can pool their resources to produce a leaflet for delivery to the electorate.  For an Independent person or persons, the possibility of combining resources with 5 other Independents is quite problematical and therefore anti-democratic.

In a by election to elect ONE person to the Town Council the cost of producing and delivering one leaflet is fairly prohibitive.

In the most recent by election:

  •  many people did not get a leaflet from any candidate. 
  •  the turn out was less than 10%. 
  •  there were spoilt ballot papers, at least one commenting that they had not had any information.
  •  four polling stations had to be open all day from 7am until 10pm at an estimated cost of £2,000 per polling station (ref 1)  

The ward is so large that it is impossible for a candidate to knock on all the doors during an election campaign. It stretches from Frogmore Road in the south east to Sewell in the north east.

Even in a full election contest, the issues of different parts of this very large ward are also very diverse.

The map above shows how the ward could logically be split into Houghton Hall East and Houghton Hall West, the names of the new ward aren't important. I have not gone into how the numbers of voters splits, that needs to be checked.

2011 Census ward profile: Houghton Hall.
Total population: 7,860.
Households: 3,210.
Dwellings: 3,290

2015 Central Bedfordshire Council. 2 Vacancies.
Declared  Electorate: 6,160
Ballot papers issued: 3,454
Turnout: 56%

2015, Town Council, 6 vacancies,
Declared Electorate 6160,
Ballot papers issued 3381,
Turnout 55%

2016 Town Council by-election, 1 vacancy
Declared Electorate: 6157
Ballot Papers Issued: 589
Turnout: 9.57%


Since the last review www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2011/162/contents/made Houghton Hall ward has grown. 'Houghton Hall East' now has extra homes at Frogmore Road, Balmoral Drive, Holyrood Drive. 'Houghton Hall West' now has extra homes at Lake View, Fieldstone, Limestone Grove, Alabaster Avenue, Whiting Square. Two further estate roads are currently being built off Bedford Road.

By 2030, developments in the east and north of Houghton Regis, will double the size of the town, and so the boundaries for this town need to be reviewed much more regularly than is the norm. We are already in the early exploration stages of building over 1,000 new homes that will fall into Parkside Ward.

To divide the Houghton Hall Ward as I describe, could produce a permanent solution for the 'Houghton Hall East' ward. To have a specific Central Bedfordshire Councillor allocated to each ward would be beneficial to the councillors in not needing to share local information so much, and beneficial to the electorate who may be unsure which councillor to ask for help from.


ref1.

 Cost of elections.  Information supplied to me by the Returning Officer, Oct 2017. "As a guideline we quote £2000 per polling station, which includes: 
Polling station staff
Count Staff
Hire of Polling Stations
Delivery and collection of Polling Booths
Issue and opening of postal votes
Printing of Poll Cards
Delivery of Poll cards
Postage
Ballot Box Stationery
Ballot paper Printing

Please comment below.
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A Response from CBC:
You will recall that when Central Bedfordshire was created in 2009, as a unitary authority,   an Electoral Arrangements Review was carried out and implemented in the 2011 CBC elections.  Included in the review was the 5 year forecast of development and the electorate, the geographical size of a ward is not a consideration I am afraid.  In carrying out the review multi member wards were created where it was clear that there was community cohesion.

Based on the December 2016 electoral register of 205962 electors the average electorate should be around 3491 per councillor representation.  Houghton Hall has an electorate of 6083 and is served by 2 members which amount to 3041 per member, which is well below an imbalance that would trigger us to consider requesting the LGBCE to carry out a review.

The next CBC election is 2019 (every four years and not five as you state in your blog).  Following that election it will be ten years since a review has been carried out and at that point we will assess the representation of the whole of the Council area and consider whether to request that the LGBCE add CBC to their review programme. Should they consider a review appropriate any changes that they may make would be implemented in the 2023 CBC elections.

Yours sincerely

{name removed}
Democratic Services Manager
Central Bedfordshire Council



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