Tories gain in boundary changes

THE political map of Suffolk is to be revamped in a move which could see the Conservatives regain control of county hall next year.The Boundary Committee has cut the number of Suffolk county councillors by five and Tories are likely at the very least to become the biggest party on the authority.

By Graham Dines

THE political map of Suffolk is to be revamped in a move which could see the Conservatives regain control of county hall next year.

The Boundary Committee has cut the number of Suffolk county councillors by five and Tories are likely at the very least to become the biggest party on the authority.

There will be a major shake-up in Labour's Ipswich and Waveney heartlands, with some areas being combined to elect two members, and the redrawing of boundaries in rural areas.

The independent Boundary Committee's decision is a massive blow to the Labour Party, which had argued that Suffolk's population increase and changes to the authority's political structures warranted an increase in members from the current 80 to 90.

Labour's case has been dismissed by the Committee, which said there was no evidence that an increase in council size of 10 was needed.

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Committee chairman Pamela Gordon, said: “Electoral arrangements across Suffolk are significantly unbalanced. The worst is Kesgrave and Martlesham division in Suffolk Coastal, where the councillor represents 81% more electors than the county average, while the councillor for Thingoe South in St Edmundsbury represents 36% fewer than the county average.

“The aim of our review is to ensure that, as far as possible, each person's vote should have the same value as another's, without disrupting community identities.”

The Conservatives argued that increased use of information technology and video conferencing meant Suffolk did not need 80 county councillors, and the move would also mean big savings for Council Tax payers.

Suffolk is the only shire county in the East of England not controlled by the Tories and has been run for 12 years by a joint Labour and Liberal Democrat administration.

Ipswich will lose three county councillors and Waveney and Forest Heath one each. The number of electoral divisions will be cut from 80 to 63, and the only existing ward not to have its boundary changed will be Bixley, the Tories' stronghold in Ipswich.

Jeremy Pembroke, Tory opposition leader on the council, said the difference between his party's 75 seat proposals and Labour's 90 would save Council Tax payers £600,000 in councillors' pay over a four year period. Although the detail of the Boundary Committee's plans were different to the Tory proposals, the result was the same - Suffolk could be governed “effectively and efficiently” with fewer members.

John Cook, secretary-agent to Ipswich Labour Party and secretary of the Suffolk county party, said the proposals would confuse electors.

Kathy Pollard, Liberal Democrat deputy leader on Suffolk County Council, would not speculate on the political consequences of the review. “We have a number of concerns about the size of some of the rural divisions like Wilford. “The main problem is that there are some areas that are very sparsely populated in order to average out the numbers across Suffolk.  Some very large geographical divisions have been created in rural areas for example Thredling has 24 villages and Wilford 25 villages.”

The Sudbury division has the second highest number of electors on the county council at 9,686, but the town's Labour representative Nick Irwin described the proposal to split the town into new divisions Sudbury and Sudbury East & Waldingfield as “utterly crazy” and “academic number crunching without any thought for the effect on the electorate”.

He added: “It is quite possible East & Waldingfield will be Labour while Sudbury could end up Liberal Democrat.”

In Mid Suffolk, the current chairman of the county council, Liberal Democrat Helen Whitworth, will have to see off a challenge from the Conservatives. Her Thredling seat is being redrawn to take in Tory voting Worlingworth.

The Committee has set a deadline of March 8 for objections. Full details of the plans can be found at www.boundarycommittee.org.uk/suffolkcc.cfm

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