Chief Executive Officer of Castle Point Borough Council, Angela Hutchings, has written to The Local Boundary Commission for England, following an Ordinary Council meeting where concerns were raised around the new Electoral Boundaries proposed for Castle Point.
The letter states the following:
"I write further to the publication of the Local Government Boundary Commission for England’s final recommendations for the new electoral arrangements for Castle Point Borough Council.
At Ordinary Council, held on 22 March 2023, these final recommendations were reported for discussion, during which our elected members raised a number of issues and voted unanimously in support of a Motion, which included an instruction to me to write to the Commission to raise the objections/issues set out below.
1. The Commission based their recommendations on development areas that were included in the now withdrawn Local Plan
The Council seeks clarity about whether the Commission based its recommendations on development areas proposed in the withdrawn local plan and, if this is the case, whether the land to the west of Benfleet, more commonly called Jotmans, was included in the mapping provided to the Commission as an area of potential development, despite it not being in the current 1998 Local Plan as an area for development. Furthermore, which other areas were included in the mapping that was provided? In addition, an updated map of potential developments should have been provided to the Commission once the new Local Plan was withdrawn. These points were made by Councillor Edwards.
2. The population of the Borough has grown – the Commission should not have reduced the number of councillors
The last review in 2000 recommended that the Council increased in size from 39 to 41 councillors. Since then, the population has grown but the Commission is looking to remove two councillors and take one ward away – there is no need to reduce the size of the Council. This point was made by Councillor Isaacs, Leader of the Conservative Group.
3. The Commission pre-decided it was going to reduce the number of councillors in Castle Point
The Council believes that the review was seeking to reduce the number of councillors in each borough. The Council has not had any input, the Commission had made up its mind it was going to reduce the number of councillors in Castle Point down to 36 and the Members on the working group proposed 39, but no-one thought that the Commission was going to do away with a whole ward. These points were made by Councillor Blackwell, Leader of the Council.
4. The A13 is a natural boundary yet this road runs through some of the recommended new wards
The Council feels that the Commission has broken its own rules about wards not crossing natural boundaries – the A13 is a natural boundary which runs through some of the recommended new wards. Tarpots, Appleton and St Mary’s wards should run parallel to each other. This point was made by Councillor Ainsley and Councillor Savage.
5. Deprivation and socio-economic factors should have been taken into account when making recommendations
The Council feels that the Commission has broken its own rules about community identity by taking some of the current (and affluent) Boyce Ward into St Mary’s Ward, which is predominantly working class. This changes the socio-economic demographic of the ward. This point was made by Councillor Ainsley.
The Council believes that the demographics of the population in each of the wards – including levels of deprivation – should be taken into account and questions why the Commission would reduce the number of councillors in areas (on Canvey Island) which also has the added feature of two COMAH (Control of Major Accident Hazards) sites. This point was made by Councillor Palmer and Councillor Savage.
6. The names of the recommended new wards do not contain anything about local history or local geography
The Council has concerns about the naming of wards as they do not contain anything about local history or local geography. This point was made by Councillor Ainsley.
7. New development on Sandy Bay and expected further development in the Borough has not been taken into account in the 2028 projected electorate figures
The development at Sandy Bay (which sits in the recommended new Canvey South Ward) has seen, and continues to see, an increase in housing numbers. This has not been taken into account in the 2028 electorate numbers. In addition, the Government says we must have a further 5,000 houses in the Borough, so the numbers used for the review are out of date and need to be re-looked at. This point was made by Councillor Anderson.
8. The Review is unfair and undemocratic
The Council raises a number of points under this objection/issue:
• That there is now a “made up” ward on the Canvey Island Town Council called Canvey Island South West because the Borough Council’s West Ward has been taken away. This point was made by Councillor Blackwell.
• Which councillor can someone who currently lives in West Ward now get in touch with if they have a problem? This question was asked by Councillor Isaacs.
• There is no democracy, someone from Government told us what we are going to have. There has been no real public involvement and the Council needs to take this back to the relevant authorities. This point was made by Councillor Anderson.
• Councillors were involved in early meetings (workshops) but none of the things discussed at those meetings have panned out the way the Council thought it would. This point was made by Councillor Savage.
• Although the workshops were looking at the number of councillors, at no time were members told about implications for the number of wards. This point was made by Councillor Fuller.
• The review has been an attack on democracy and councillors have not been consulted. This point was made by Councillor Ainsley.
• Residents are concerned, removing two councillors and West Ward is unfair and undemocratic, and puts Canvey Islanders at a disadvantage at local elections. This point was made by Councillor Campagna.
At the conclusion of the discussion, Councillor Campagna proposed the following Motion:
Full Council should take the following steps to respond to the sentiments being heard from our residents and from councillors in the Chamber tonight:
a. Legal opinion from a top barrister to tell the Council how it can force the Boundary Commission to look at the report and recommendations again
b. Chief Executive to write to the Boundary Commission with strong objections to the cutting of West Ward and reduction of councillors on Canvey Island
c. Follow up report at the next Council meeting with an update on legal advice given about stopping the changes and to get an update from the Chief Executive regarding the objections sent to the Boundary Commission
In light of these objections/issues, and with the unanimous support of the Council for the Motion set out above, Castle Point Borough Council requests that the Commission revisits and reconsiders its final recommendations in advance of scheduled laying of the draft Order before Parliament on 10 May 2023.
I invite you to watch the recording of the meeting which is available and can be viewed here with the discussion of the review starting just before the 23rd minute. I am sure you will agree that Castle Point Borough Council’s elected members care passionately about local democracy and democratic representation which is why I agreed for the report to be discussed at Ordinary Council.
Thank you for your careful consideration of the points raised above and I look forward to hearing from you.