Should communities with a shared identity be served by the same councillors?
The organisation which is redrawing the electoral map of Chorley will be asked to breach its own guidelines in order to keep two historically-linked villages in the same council ward.
Plans to split Heskin and and Eccleston caused consternation amongst some councillors when they were first proposed last summer. It would mean the two communities would be represented by different members of Chorley Council, in spite of sharing many of the same local services.
The Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) has been consulting on the proposal, which is designed to create similarly-sized wards in order to make elections in the borough fairer.
However, Chorley Council has suggested alternatives which would keep Heskin and Eccleston together – but go against the LGBCE’s requirements.
Leader of the Labour-run authority, Alistair Bradley, told a meeting of the full council that there was “no perfect answer” to the problem.
The council has put forward a proposal which would move Heskin from the Croston and Mawdsley ward – where the LGBCE is minded to put it – into a new ward for Eccleston, Charnock Richard and Euxton South. A smaller number of electors would go in the opposite direction, but that would still leave the Croston ward 15 percent smaller than the borough average – the commission wants the variance to be no more than 10 percent.
The LGBCE will consider breaking is own rules if there are “good reasons” to do so, members were told. Labour councillor Alan Whittaker said the lack of “any school, employment or health links whatsoever” between Heskin and Croston meant the original proposal had to change.
But the knock-on effect of the council’s suggested alternative angered some Conservative opposition members.
“I’m not happy with Mawdsley and Eccleston being split, but I have to accept that because it is the right thing for this borough,” deputy Tory leader Martin Boardman said.
“What I can’t accept is the elephant in the room – Croston, Mawdesley and Bretherton, the biggest geographical ward in Chorley, now with its trunk sticking out into Euxton – it just does not make geographical sense. What does Mawdesley have in common with Euxton,?” he asked.
Cllr Bradley said he regretted that the opposition had not “engaged” with the process earlier, via a cross-party committee set up top explore the issue. He also told the meeting that the crossing of existing parish boundaries was not sufficient reason for the LGBCE to amend its proposals – and added that the parish councils would be unaffected by any change to borough ward boundaries.
Conservative group leader, Alan Cullens, said his party had “taken the process seriously”, but added that he could see not see the point of trying to get round the LGBCE’s rules “to accommodate one village”
A second council alternative has been put forward, which also moves Heskin into the Eccleston, Charnock Richard and Euxton South ward, but shifts fewer voters in the opposite direction – and so leaves both areas outside the LGBCE’s tolerance level. Cllr Bradley admitted that he did not believe that idea would “fly” with the commission.
The LGBCE will put forward its final proposal in March and the new boundaries will take effect for all-out elections in 2020.