This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Different rules apply obviously!

I note that the Local Government Boundary Commission for England has now published its final recommendations for redrawing the boundaries for Aylesbury Vale Councillor wards. You can read the full report here and see the map here. The discussion of the boundaries around Buckingham seem to have been left in the 'too hard to do the maths so we will stick to the original plan' box. It is a great shame as the impact on the town council and the local community is significant. As clearly stated their principles of:
  • equalising the number of electors each councillor represents; 
  • reflecting community identity; 
  • and providing for effective and convenient local government 
... do not seem to extend to parish and town councils. So different rules clearly apply! So much for localism!! Below is the submission I sent to them after local party discussions. If you read their document, you can see how they addressed all the points we made (not). 

I write as the Labour Party Agent on behalf to the Buckingham Constituency Labour Party. We have examined your proposals for change to the AVDC ward boundaries. Broadly, we support the plans for our constituency (which does not include Aylesbury). However, we have some very serious concerns over some of your proposed changes.

Our concerns are focused on the two Buckingham & Luffield Abbey wards where you appear to have ignored the historic layout of the town, the communities with which people identify and broadly (dare we say) common sense in order to shoe horn in enough numbers to make the Luffield Abbey ward viable and the two Buckingham wards not too big for your calculations. Obviously we appreciate your difficulties (given that you appear to have worked from Aylesbury outwards leaving you very little wiggle room in the Northern corner of the Vale), but we urge you strongly to find another way to ‘balance the electoral books’ as it were.

We do not see it as our role to propose other solutions since that is evidently your expertise. Here are the reasons behind our objections to your proposals:
  • The area to the East of Moreton Road that you propose should become part of Luffield Abbey ward is an integral part of Buckingham: socially, architecturally and historically. You would be dividing existing communities particularly around a local school.
  • You suggest that the properties in this part of Buckingham have more in common with the properties of Maids Moreton. We really do not understand how you make this assessment when you consider the age of properties, the natural contiguousness of this area with Buckingham to its South, West and East (via the local school especially) and the fact that there are no services in Maids Moreton. All local shopping etc is done by these community members in Buckingham. 
  • Arguably Maids Moreton has far more in common with Buckingham than with the rural villages that it is currently connected too via the Luffield Abbey ward. There is one pub in Maids Moreton and that is it – and even that was closed for six months last year.
  • Planning decisions in this part of town would be examined by the town council and the ward member for Luffield Abbey rather than (as is currently the case) by local AVDC Buckingham North members. Having splits like this, damage the integrity of local governance and good partnership working between Town & District councillors.
  • We think that you may have your numbers incorrect. In your estimates, Luffield Abbey will have exactly the same number of electors in 2019 as currently. This is despite an additional 327 electors (roughly) being transferred from Buckingham North to Luffield Abbey. Are you suggesting that Luffield Abbey is about to lose this number of electors over the next 4 or 5 years? Indeed, we predict that there would be an increase due to infill housing in the villages of Luffield Abbey rather than any reduction (considering the Luffield Abbey stays the same as present). As your numbers appear to be incorrect (although we would be keen to learn how you arrived at your predicted number for Luffield Abbey), we challenge the whole basis on which you have made your proposals.
  • With the building that is about to start on the Western side of Moreton Road, just to the south of the Rugby club, the area that you have extracted to join with Luffield Abbey will feel even more like an isolated electoral peninsula. 
  • Your proposals around Fishers Field make a little more sense and we can see some of the value of transferring these few houses to Buckingham North. However, the river provides a natural and historic boundary which we feel should be kept. Moreover, your calculations due to the size of Buckingham South, we feel, have not adequately taken account of likely housing developments between Tingewick Road and main A421. In your calculations, you appear to have only taken account of the new voters moving into Lace Hill (the developers have the temporary marketing name of Windsor Park). Thus we feel here also, that your calculations are awry from the likely future reality. 
  • There are only 138 voters in Fishers Field and so we feel that moving them from their historic base in Buckingham South is simply not justified. We cannot see that it makes much difference to voter numbers.
  • Although I know this is not your direct concern, the consequences of these two ward boundary changes inside the parish of Buckingham will mean elections for Buckingham Town Council being reduced to something approaching a governance farce. There will be one town councillor for Fishers Field (138 voters), one town councillor for “Highlands & Watchcroft” (the other slice that has gone to Luffield Abbey – 327 voters) and then a further 8 town councillors for the remains of Buckingham North and South (5230 and 4116 voters respectively). So the consequence of this would be to have ratios of voters to town councillors ranging from 1:138 to 1:654. This is not good governance and runs counter to your objectives for the district of levelling out the ratios as far as possible. There will also be increased election costs as a result of these changes, just to fit your current proposals. We estimate the ratio of Town Councillors to voters would average out at 1:545 which means that the Fishers Field councillor would be at a variance of minus 75%, Highlands & Watchcroft of minus 40% whilst councillors from North & South would be plus 20% and 6% respectively. How is it right to mess with Buckingham Town Council governance so drastically?
  • Our concern is for the electoral integrity of and partnership between both AVDC councillors and town/parish councillors. You proposals slice through this integrity and partnership and will have damaging effects, we believe, on the sense of community in all the areas concerned. 
As we say above, it is not for us to propose alternatives. However, for example, we would say that Luffield Abbey is an artificial construct (very few people could even place Luffield Abbey on a map) and which includes Maids Moreton which was judged by a recent planning inspector’s appeal assessment (for the development south of the rugby club) as being contiguous with Buckingham.

In sum, we wholeheartedly and strongly reject your proposals for Buckingham North, South and Luffield Abbey as being significantly detrimental to historic local community identities and effective local governance at both District and Town council levels.

Sincerely yours

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