Electoral wards - Concerns over electoral report

I am indebted to the Market Rasen Mail for drawing my attention to the draft recommendations on the new electoral arrangements for Lincolnshire County Council, which were published in time for the pantomime season.

So let me begin by saying: once upon a time (in 1869), there was Welton Rural District Council, in an administrative area known as Parts Lindsey; and, in 1974, as part of an electoral reform, Welton became a ward in the district of West Lindsey.

Then, in 2012, along came the Boundary Commission for England, which noticed that Welton had two district councillors and Dunholme had only one. So, in the interest of ‘electoral equality’, it decided to combine Dunholme and Welton as a single ward with three councillors. No gain, no loss, and no point.

Then along came the district council elections of 2014, when six candidates were nominated and three were duly elected.

Numerical electoral equality may have been achieved; but the residents of Dunholme may not feel that electoral fairness was achieved when all three successful candidates live in the larger settlement of Welton. And yes, size matters.

Outside Gainsborough, Welton is the largest settlement in West Lindsey, and it deserves to be recognised as a single cohesive entity.

Now the electoral commission, in its draft recommendations to Lincolnshire County Council, is seeking to abolish the Welton rural division.

Worse still, it seeks to divide the core of the village between a newly-proposed Nettleham division and an extended Ancholme Cliff division, so that the ancient administrative name of Welton will disappear from the county seats.

Within the parish of Welton, the proposed divisional boundary runs easterly along Heath Lane, into Cliff Road, through the centre of the village, along Ryland Road, and then turns northerly along Hackthorn Road.

The Boundary Commission has seen fit to divide a cohesive settlement between two county council divisions so that there can be an elegant balance of electoral numbers on the commission’s spread sheet.

At first glance, the following anomalies become apparent: Welton Parish Council Office is to be in the Nettleham division, while its Manor Park facilities are to be in the Ancholme Cliff division; William Farr School and St Mary’s Church are to be in Nettleham division, while St Mary’s School is to be in Ancolme division; Welton Health Centre is to be in Ancolme division; while the dental and veterinary practices are to be in the Nettleham division; Welton Post Office, library and pharmacy are to be in the Ancholme division, while the Black Bull and the village green are to be in the Nettleham division; and finally, Welton Sports and Social Club is to be in Nettleham division, while (over the road) Welton Village Hall will be in Ancholme Cliff division.

Bearing in mind that the Boundary Commission amalgamated the wards of Welton and Dunholme three years ago, it is now seeking to separate Nettleham and Saxilby “because they do not share community ties”.

Well I defy the commission to provide evidence of any community ties between Welton and Nettleham, and it seems rather perverse when the commission is seeking to divide Welton where the community ties are tangible and visible.

Interestingly, it seems that the commission has lost its bearings, because there are schoolboy errors in the report.

It describes the proposed Nettleham division as containing the south-west of Welton, and Ancholme Cliff as containing the north-east part of Welton. Wrong way round.

Its own map shows that Nettleham would contain the south-east of Welton village, and Ancholme Cliff would contain the north-west of Welton.

Such errors undermine the credibility of the report and demonstrate the fallibility of its proposals.

Turning now to the report’s recommendations for parish electoral arrangements: of the 78 town and parishes councils in West Lindsey, Welton is the only one to be singled out for yet another dubious adjustment.

“Welton Parish Council should comprise nine councillors as, at present [sic], representing two wards, Well [sic] (returning four members) and Ryland (returning five members)”. What on earth is that all about?

Welton has 13 councillors, and Ryland does not exist as an administrative entity. The hamlet is named on old maps and on the road that runs between Welton and Dunholme; but there is no defined boundary, and there is only one parish precept.

Welton has seldom been able to appoint its full complement of 13 councillors, so how can the commission guarantee any proportionality between the proposed parish wards, and what difference would it make? Just another elegant variation of numbers that would serve no purpose.

Welton Parish Council will be able to consider the recommendations on January 11, with West Lindsey District Council able to debate the proposals on January 26; but the commission’s recommendations were too late to be considered by Lincolnshire County Council on December 19, and their next meeting does not take place until after the consultation period closes.

It gives rise to a suspicion that the consultation is no more than a statutory obligation, and that the democratic processes are of no consequence. How ironic.

Group Captain P J Rodgers MBE RAF (Retd)