@ExeterCouncil meeting to discuss new ward boundaries for #Exeter

Tonight there was an Extraordinary Meeting of Exeter City Council to discuss the new ward boundaries in Exeter – solely for election purposes in City Council election.nothing else.

John Street, as Electoral Registration Officer and Lead Officer for this project, gave an opening preamble
– This review of ward sizes and boundries has been instigated by Local Government Boundary Commission for England because many of the current wards are showing “imbalance”
– 7 out of 18 electoral wards (38.88%) have an electoral variance of +/- 10% from the average.
– In drawing up a pattern of electoral wards, LGBCE must balance its three statutory criteria, namely:
• To deliver electoral equality where each councillor represents roughly the same number of electors as others across the city.
• That the pattern of wards should, as far as possible, reflect the interests and identities of local communities.
• That the electoral arrangements should provide for effective and convenient local government
– At the Extraordinary Meeting of Exeter City Council meeting held on 20 January 2015, it was decided that ECC would have 39 councillors; and that Exeter City Council would continue to undertake its elections by thirds.
– Looking at the simple mathematics, there are 18 wards at the moments, there’s going to be 39 councillors, the presumption is that there would be 3 Members per new ward, and therefore we need 13  new wards. So we are going to lose 5 wards (and maybe their names) whatever happens.
– This is a consultation exercise so anyone else can put in their own submission to LGBCE by close of play on 30/03/15. – ECC submission to LGBCE will be given equal weigh as any other submission.
– The biggest debating point at the time of the previous review, in 2000, was also the names of the new wards, – There has been a fallacy, a complete red herring, that the names on signs will have to change. All we are doing here is changing names for City Council election purposes only. All the other historic names, and all the connotations they bring, within the city will stay the same.
– At the end of the day, it is not our decision but that of LGBE.

Council Leader, Cllr Pete Edwards (LAB, Whipton Barton), thanked council offers for the work they had put in while drawing up these proposals. He also mentioned the input of the all-party Working Group in helping draft these proposals. Cllr Edward proposed some  amendments to the draft proposals, and accepted another one from the floor of the meeting.
– Proposed Magdalen ward would be renamed Newton and St Leonards
– Proposed Riverside ward would be renamed St Davids and Riverside
– The proposed boundaries of both Priory and Topsham would revert back to the existing boundaries along Topsham Road.
– The proposed Duryard ward would become a “2+1” arrangement, with existing St James ward would continued to represented by 2 members, and the remaining ward of Duryard would be represented by 1 member. This change gives recognition to the fact that the existing ward of St James is unique in having an adopted Neighbourhood Plan.

As Leader of the main opposition group, Cllr Andrew Leadbetter (CON, St Loyes) confirmed that his group would be voting against the recommendation. He also confirmed that the Conservative Group and the local Conservative Association would be making their submission to LGBRE.

Cllr Kevin Mitchell (LD, St James) confirmed that the all-party Working Group worked very well together. He highlighted the unique case for St James – as the first urban area to adopt a Neighbourhood Plan – and welcomed the amendment.

Cllr Stella Brock (LD, St Davids) would have preferred 18 smaller wards, and welcomed the Leader accepting the amendment on the proposed Riverside ward being named St Davids and Riverside.

Time for some contraversary from Cllr John Winterbottom (CON, St Leonards) – who is standing down at the forthcoming local elections.

He thought the proposals were diabolical and then started to cover old ground on ward sizes and all-out elections (these issues were resolved at the Extraordinary Meeting of 20/01.15 and not on the table tonight).

He was concerned that many people didn’t know this was happening. He also asked 3 questions:
Q1 – Who is going to pay for the new signs?
Q2 – Why hasn’t this been placed on the Council’s website?
Q3 – Why isn’t in the current edition of Exeter Citizen?

Time for me to speak…

Thank you, Lord Mayor.

Iam surprised by the comments of Cllr Winterbottom – soon to  be Mr Winterbottom. If he is concerned that the residents of St Leonards are unaware of what is happening to Exeter’s ward boundaries, why hasn’t been speaking to them about it? That’s what we’ve been doing in Cowick. Speaking to our communities.

Now to what I was going to say…

If you read the mainstream media, there is nothing but apathy for the political process across the country.  

But not here in Exeter.

Everyone seems to be getting worked up about the Local Government Boundary Commission’s review of our ward boundaries for elections to this City County.

Lines drawn on a map.

Lines on a piece of paper

Lines that decide only where people vote in 3 out of 4 years.

What it doesn’t affect are the communities within a ward.

I speak as someone who’s ward will disappear if the proposals – or ones quite like it – are finally adopted.

I know that Cowick isn’t one amorphous mass of people…those 4,500 people in 2,500 households make up several very different communities.  

There’s the previously lost community of Exonia Park.

Ignored by opposition members from the time they were taken within Exeter’s boundaries (in 1988), The residents there faced specific problems due to living on a residential park home site. Many of those issues could only be solved by changing laws governing the way those park sites are run.

My co-cllr Heather Morris and I listened to that community and acted to help them change NATIONAL legislation.

Legislation that now helps them.

For a little while I wondered why the building in Merrivale Road now called Westside was known as Buddle Lane Youth Centre.

But then I discovered that the council housing there was known as the Buddle lane Housing Estate.

They have concerns over many things, but those concerns are total different to what I hear on the doorsteps of the “Counties”.  

And the issues there are total removed from those issue I hear about at the top of the very steep steps of Cowick Hill.

Many differing communities all contained within a electoral boundary.

A boundary that most in Cowick don’t recognize.

For the past 4 years, I’ve done all I can to promote the brand of Cowick…but the residents still think they live in St Thomas and some like, Cllr Bialyk here, in Higher St Thomas.  

And why?

That’s where all those communities are rooted.  

That’s where all the communitiy infrastructure is located  

So take note the residents of St Leonards, the name will remain…because the community will remain.

The new ward will be St Thomas – many will think it is named after the parish church of St Thomas the Apostle on Cowick Street…but for me it will be named after the disused church of St Thomas of Canterbury on Dunsford Road  and currently within Cowick ward!

The changes on the table tonight have all about giving each of the 7,200 or so voters in each new ward an equal voice.  

A process initiated not be Exeter Labour Party, not by Exeter City Council but by the INDEPENDENT Local Government Boundary Commission of England.

However, I’ve heard that the plans described as Gerrymandering – yes hard G, as in the name of Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, not the soft G of Jerry, as in Jerry Springer.

Gerymandering – the process of setting electoral districts that that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating boundaries to create partisan districts.

Gerrymandering – to manipulate the boundaries (of an electoral constituency) so as to favour one party or class.

Those calls must come from someone who hasn’t knocked on as many doors and spoken to as many people as I have over the 10 years since I arrived in Exeter.

In an era of multi-party politics, you can’t stereotype how someone will vote by which street they live on, by which area they live in, by which ward they 

The way to gain electoral advantage is to get out on the doorstep, and listen and learn from the voices of the people in your various communities.

It seems many here are concerned about losing their ward, because it means losing their seat.

Losing their voice on this Council. 

My ward is disappearing…but my communities are not. 

They will still be there wherever the ward boundaries are drawn I hope that by understanding the people and the communities that I represent, either now in Cowick, and hopefully for the future in St Thomas, that I will motivate residents away from talking to the paper and towards putting a cross on a piece of paper.

For me these boundary changes are about people, about communities, not lines on a map. I will be supporting the recommendations before us, and I urge you all to join me.

Cllr Rosie Denham (LAB, Whipton Barton) wasn’t going to speak, but was prompted by the comments of Cllr Winterbottom.

She pointed out that the decision on how many councillors and the pattern of City elections has already been taken and not relevant to tonight’s discussions.

Cllr Denham said this was a serious process and she felt that his comments put to shame all the hard work of the all-party Working Group, as what we have before tonight is the result of their hard work, and that of officers.

Rosie also pointed out the situation of Priory – an existing ward that has 2 distinct community identities – Wonford and Countess Wear – that in the past were wards in their own right.

Cllr Adrian Fullam (LD, St Thomas) indicated that he thought there was movement in the direction that caused him to have reservations at the Executive Committee meeting on 17 March 2015.
RECOMMENDED to Council that the proposed ward boundaries, as indicated on the map and narrative attached to the report presented to the Executive, form the Council’s official submission to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England, in response to its current consultation on the electoral review of Exeter. (In accordance with Standing Order 43, Councillors Fullam and Leadbetter requested their abstention from voting be recorded).

Cllr Rachel Lyons (LAB, Polsloe) wondered if the proposed Stoke Hill ward could ben named St Katherines, but this suggestion was not accepted (that is not to say someone could not make this suggestion to LGBRE before 30/03/15).

Cllr Keith Owen (LAB, St James) wound up the debate. He welcomed the amendment which means that ECC accept there is a unique case for St James to remain as 2-member ward within its existing boundaries.

Keith also tacked some of the issues raised by Cllr Winterbottom
– 2 member ward with councillors of different political parties can work together for the benefit or the ward and the city, as it relies on a consensus
– in 3-memeber wards, with all 3 from the same political parties,  there is no guarantee that all members agree all of the time.

In summing up, Cllr Edwards addressed Cllr Winterbottom’s questions:
Q1 – John Street has already said that no signs will need changing if these proposals are accepted.
Q2- The consultation has been mentioned on the ECC website, and the proposals posted in the minutes of meetings as and when they happened.
Q3 – Print and distribution deadlines made it impossible to mention the review process in Exeter Citizen.
A named vote was taken:
FOR [24]
Phil Biakyk (LAB, Exwick); Richard Branston (LAB, Newtown); Stephen Brimble (LAB, Mincinglake); Paul Bull (LAB, Cowick); Margaret Clark (LAB, Alphington); Rob Crew (LAB, Alphington); Rosie Denham (LAB, Whipton Barton); Peter Edwards (LAB, Whipton Barton); Suaad George (LAB, Alphington); Rob Hannaford (LAB, St Thomas); Olwen Foggin (LAB, Heavitree); Adrian Fullam (LD, St Thomas); Sarah Laws (LAB, St Davids); Rachel Lyons (LAB, Polsloe);  Kevin Mitchell (LD, St James); Heather Morris (LAB, Cowick); Kevin Owen (LAB, St James); Ollie Pearson (LAB, Exwick);  Christine Raybould (LAB, Polsloe); Lesley Robson (LAB, Priory); Greg Sheldon (LAB, Heavitree), Roger Spackman (LAB, Newton); Rachel Sutton (LAB, Exwick); Meg Wiiliam (LAB, Pinhoe)

AGAINST [7]
Margaret Baldwin (CON, Topsham); Jake Donovan (CON, Pennsylvania); David Henson (CON, St Loyes); Peter Holland (CON, Pennsylvania); Lee Mottram  (CON, Duryard);  John Winterbottom (CON, St Leonards)

ABSTAINED [2]
Stella Brock (LD, St Davids); Lord Mayor – Percy Prowse (CON, Duryard)

ABSENT: [7]
Simon Bowkett (LAB, Pinhoe); Marcel Choules (LAB, Priory); Catherine Dawson (LAB, Mincinglake); Andrew Leadbetter (CON, St Loyes, who left before the vote); Norman Shiel (CON, St Leonards);Gill Tippins (LAB, Priory);  Tony Wardle (LAB, Whipton Barton)

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