John's Jottings for April 2002

John Ward

Please note: these Jottings are purely personal comment, and do not necessarily or directly represent the policy of either the Conservative Party or the Conservative Group on Medway Council.

Boundary Review—the new wards and Council membership proposals.

The Local Government Commission completed their consideration of the proposals for new warding of the Medway Council area just a few months ago as I write this. Their proposals were considered by the full Medway Council and approved for submission to central government.

Next year, at the time of the local elections in May 2003, the new ward boundaries will come into effect. Indeed, we shall be fighting the elections on the basis of the new ward boundaries.

There will also be fewer candidates, as the new set-up will reduce the number of seats on the Council from 80 to just 55.

There will be only 22 wards in the new Medway Towns warding (well, apart from me, I hope—"Ward" number 23!) in place of the current 35 wards that include my own ward, Horsted. Our "patch" will be quite a bit larger under the new arrangements, more or less doubling the number of residents but increasing the representation on Medway Council from two to three Councillors.

This means that—if all goes well—anyone living in the new Rochester South and Horsted ward (originally intended to be called Chatham South, by the way) will be able to come to a choice of not only Ron and John (that well-known double act!) but a third Councillor for which position a candidate is yet to be selected.

Right, so that's where matters stand. Will the new wards be better for our residents and more representative of our communities? Well, yes...and no.

Although some weight is given to the way communities are structured, it is abundantly clear that the main criterion is equality of numbers of electorate to each councillor, and that overrides any consideration of keeping communities together in the same ward. For all the demographic changes that have occurred in the Medway Towns since the previous boundary review, in at least some cases the old wards were better in terms of community identity than the new ones will be.

Even so, it has been acknowledged by a number of those who are considerably more experienced than I that we do have too many councillors for a unitary authority of this type and size. The new set-up will be a reasonable way to satisfy the requirement to reduce the number of councillors to 50 or so while keeping each councillor's caseload manageable.

In the case of Horsted ward, parts of what are at present Warren Wood, Hook Meadow and Town wards will be "bolted on" to the existing Horsted ward, and the even more oddly-shaped result than we have at the moment will become known as Rochester South and Horsted, as I mentioned above.

My overall feeling is that the emphasis on equality of numbers has resulted in a less than satisfactory outome of this whole review, but it's up to all of us to make the new arrangement work. I have already started by frequently walking through different parts of Warren Wood and Hook Meadow, and occasionally the relevant part of Town ward, in fact whenever I get the chance to do so.

I for one intend to be ready to tackle the new challenges of Rochester South and Horsted ward!

Next time: Medway's Local Media.